Davis police defend their MRAP

By Erin E. Young

Davis police officials sought last week to appease residents’ fears that their department is too militarized.

More than 50 Davis residents attended the November 13 dialogue on law-enforcement trends, which focused on the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, that the police department acquired free in August, only to have the city council order it back two months later. Why? Because news of its arrival broke shortly after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked protests and an aggressive police response that employed the tank-resembling MRAP.

Davis PD received its MRAP earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the 1033 Program, which allows law enforcement agencies across the country to intercept excess military hardware at zero cost.

During the three-hour meeting, police officials played down the connection between their military-grade equipment and what happened in Ferguson, even presenting a “show and tell” of firearms they’re going up against, like AK-47s and AR-15 ghost rifles.

“This is not a tank,” assistant police Chief Darren Pytel said of the MRAP, which protects against weaponry that can puncture bulletproof vests. According to Pytel, felony arrests in Davis have increased 105 percent since 2010, and drug-related arrests rose 163 percent. “This is what we now are facing in homes,” he told attendees. Referring to the recently passed Proposition 47, which lowers the penalties for non-serious crimes, he added, “We’re going to see a couple of rough years here…and the MRAP vehicle helps us stay safe.”

Residents’ mixed emotions were expressed on large yellow sticky notes on the wall: Deep concern. Overkill. Suspicious. Fear of militarization.

Longtime Davis resident Ellen Pontac thinks there might have been a less negative reaction if the process had been more transparent. “Nobody wanted it here, and no one knew why the MRAP was necessary,” she said. “Davis has a real feeling of citizen community, and we just felt left out and disconnected.”

Pytel admitted that this conversation should have happened sooner. The MRAP is returning to the DoD this week.

Janice Lott, who is on the police department’s Community Advisory Board, thinks it’s unfortunate the city council voted that way. But, she added, “This was necessary, however, for the community to continue to trust in the police department.”

Another community dialogue is scheduled for January.

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