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Davis police research civilian armored vehicle, months after city rejected military model

A military armored personnel carrier, the type that Davis recently returned, is seen at a school in Bellingham,Wash..
A military armored personnel carrier, the type that Davis recently returned, is seen at a school in Bellingham,Wash.. Associated Press file

Seven months after Davis leaders returned a hulking military war vehicle acquired for free through a federal government surplus program, city and police officials are considering spending up to half a million dollars to purchase a civilian version designed for police use.

The Davis City Council on Tuesday directed police to research civilian vehicles after returning the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known as MRAPs, in October following a perceived “militarization” of the department by some in the public. That vehicle was eventually acquired by neighboring Woodland.

Davis Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel said there are dangerous situations in which armored vehicles are used by law enforcement, typically by SWAT officers.

“They are used to go into situations in which people have rifles or handguns,” he said. “They can deliver officers or rescue people.”

The council, which is to discuss the issue in the fall, has asked for options but has not approved a purchase. Civilian models can range from $175,000 for a stripped-down model to $500,000 for one with all the extras.

“Part of the bigger discussion is whether we can afford one,” Pytel said.

City Council members interviewed on Wednesday said the feasibility of acquiring an armored vehicle would depend on the city’s budget priorities.

Davis police already have access to armored vehicles in Woodland and West Sacramento through mutual aid agreements. MRAPs from the two Yolo County agencies were used in March during a murder-suicide standoff in west Davis.

“I remain deeply skeptical of the wisdom of purchasing an armored vehicle,” Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said. “We have so many needs not just in our Police Department, but in our city. The thought of spending up to $400,000 on an armored vehicle doesn’t make sense to me.”

That was echoed by Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, who like Wolk last time voted to return the MRAP.

Davis questioned the maneuverability and usability of the military vehicle in the urban environment. Police armored vehicles tend to be smaller and less bulky than those designed for military use. He emphasized that an MRAP won’t eliminate the risk of police injury or death in a hostage or active shooter situation.

“When you get into the game of reducing risk to zero, there is no amount of cost you will not bear. Do we need two MRAPs, three or four?” Davis said.

Councilman Brett Lee, who previously voted to keep the military vehicle, said it was a no-brainer when it was free. But spending money is another thing, he said.

The City Council asked Davis police to explore sharing the cost and operation of a civilian armored vehicle with UC Davis. The university manages its own police department.

Asked about a possible sharing agreement, UC Davis spokesman Andy Fell said, “It’s just too early to say.”