Crime - Sacto 911

Davis City Council seeks alternatives to military armored vehicle

After hours of discussion, the Davis City Council on Tuesday night voted to ask staff to return within 60 days with options for the military surplus armored rescue vehicle the police department recently added to their fleet.

They also agreed to meet with the police department to try and determine what type of protective vehicle they would need, and hold a community forum to discuss public safety issues related to active-shooter type incidents. The council also agreed to review the guidelines for acquisitions of such items.

Council member Robb Davis made the motion. He said he sees no way the rescue vehicle would be acceptable for the city. The council voted 4-1, with council member Brett Lee dissenting. Lee argued that the council should take more time to gather information, saying quick decisions have gotten them into difficulties in the past.

Davis police say the armored rescue vehicle is intended not for offensive use, but rather to protect occupants from gunfire and hazards.

But at the council meeting, nearly all of the speakers opposed the acquisition. Most expressed confidence in the current Davis Police Department and chief, but said they were concerned about how it may be used by subsequent chiefs and police personnel.

Police defended the vehicle’s acquisition, noting that the use of an armored vehicle by the department’s SWAT team is not new, but use of such military hand-me-downs by police departments has drawn new attention after heavily armored police in Ferguson, Mo., confronted street protesters. Critics argue that it is needlessly adding to the military nature of some police departments.

Russell Neches, a graduate student at UC Davis and a member of the city’s commission on safety and parking, said he appreciates what the Police Department has done but he doesn’t think the vehicle is appropriate for any police department to have. He said police need some kind of armored vehicle, but it should be a civilian vehicle.

Neches said he set up an online website and had collected more than 250 signatures opposing the vehicle.

Naomi Williams noted that the police chief had recounted a number of active shooting incidents, but she was hard-pressed to see how a vehicle like this would have helped.

A few residents supported acquiring the rescue vehicle. Michelle Millet, a former emergency medical technician, said she was taught that you never went into a scene unless it was safe, even if someone dies. She said she doesn’t see this vehicle as a weapon, but rather as a way to move officers.

“I’m not concerned about our police using this inappropriately,” she said.

James Hechtl also said he supported having the vehicle.

“I would rather have something and not need it, then need it and not have it,” he said.

In a staff report, Davis Police Chief Landy Black said the City Council in 2009 authorized the Police Department to acquire federal and military equipment suitable for use in conventional law enforcement activities through a program of the Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office. The program, administered in California by the Office of Emergency Services, was established to convert and repurpose surplus federal and military equipment to local law enforcement use.

Although the request for the vehicle was submitted in May 2012, the Police Department received it this month. Black described it in the staff report as “a low mileage, well maintained armored rescue vehicle that will enable the department to be better prepared for and capable of handling any number of potential circumstances involving citizens and police in Davis or at UCD coming under hostile, small arms fire; especially circumstances such as school/university/mall-based mass-shooting (“active shooter”) incidents.

Known by its military acronym MRAP – Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected – the vehicle is one of the smaller versions of armored vehicle the military had been employing in Afghanistan, Black said. It is valued at $689,000, but the Davis Police Department received it for free through the program.

Because of its ballistic protection, the vehicle would allow officers to rescue victims or potential victims in active-shooter incidents, and safely deliver officers to barricaded hostage crises and other incidents involving armed offenders, police said.

“These vehicles are not intended for offensive use, like armored artillery or a tank is; they are intended to protect occupants from gunfire or hazards – they are for rescues and occupant protection,” Black said in the staff report.

The report cited recent incidents in which SWAT teams and police departments have used armored rescue vehicles for such purposes, including the pursuit of heavily armed bank robbery suspects in Stockton in July, and an October 2013 incident in which the Roseville Police Department was involved in a running gunbattle with a suspect who shot two police officers, then holed up in a residence and engaged police in a hours-long standoff.

In the Roseville incident, the report says, the Davis/West Sacramento SWAT team responded in an armored vehicle the two Yolo County cities share and exchanged gunfire with the suspect.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee