The acquisition by the Davis and Sacramento police departments, as well as the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, of excess military equipment from the U.S. Defense Department has the Sacramento Bee in a tizzy.
The Davis police acquired a $689,000 Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle that was a smaller version of tanks used in Iraq and Afghanistan, for free. The Sacramento police got two helicopters, and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office received roughly 50 rifles and an old armored car.
The Defense Department offers these pieces of equipment to over 8,000 law enforcement agencies across the country to fight drug trafficking or other crimes. The program, run by the Defense Logistics Agency, is called the “1033 Program.”
The Bee somehow thinks the Davis police department should have been prescient, writing in an editorial, “Worse still was the timing. Although the acquisition of the vehicle had been in the works for more than two years, the department took delivery of it just days before Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo.”
Davis pediatrician and social activist Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia was also agitated, comparing the situation to the 2011 pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis by campus police. She commented on the armored vehicle acquisition by saying, “That’s crazy. I can’t believe we’re doing that after the pepper-spraying. What will happen eventually, because we have it, are the scenes we’re seeing in (Missouri).”
The Washington Post reported that the 1033 Program had distributed over $5.1 billion in equipment nationwide since 1997, including $92 million for California law agencies since 2006.
Davis Police Department’s Chief Landy Black lauded the MRAP, saying its heavy armor
…makes it the perfect platform to perform rescues of victims and potential victims during… active-shooter incidents, and to more safely deliver officers into an active-shooter incident. We are sensitive to the ‘militarization of the police’ concern. We do not want to minimize that sentiment and will look for ways to reduce public anxiety, including through the community trust that the Davis Police Department works so hard to earn and keep.
But Davis Mayor Dan Wolk responded, “I can’t imagine why Davis needs a tank. It’s in a city garage and I hope it stays there.”
City Councilman Lucas Frerichs added, “I was extremely surprised to learn of the recent acquisition of this armored vehicle after its delivery. I have raised questions about the appropriateness and need for such a ‘tool.’ “
The CA Governor’s Office of Emergency Services handles the applications for the program from law enforcement agencies. If approved, the requests are forwarded to the federal government.
Placer County sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said, “We don’t have anything like grenade launchers or anything like that.” she added.
Police officials defended the acquisitions, asserting that equipment such as an armored vehicle can be critical for police officers confronting gunmen barricaded inside buildings. Asked about the MRAP, Davis police Lt. Thomas Waltz said, “We’ve been trying to get the vehicle for several years. It’s not an offensive vehicle. It’s going to be used in emergency situations – it offers protection from small-arms fire.”
The Bee declined to blame local law enforcement agencies, instead blaming the Department of Defense, writing, “We don’t blame Davis police for following a law enforcement trend. If there is any blame for the militarization of America’s police departments in the years since 9/11, it belongs to the Department of Defense.“
The Bee concluded:
Embracing equipment more suited to armed conflict than public safety sends a visual message that community and policing aren’t on the same level. That’s a bad message to send. Community policing has done more to quell violence in disenfranchised communities than any piece of safety equipment, not that Davis is disenfranchised. Davis police need tools to keep officers safe as they conduct their jobs. But the accumulation of military garb puts a greater distance between the police and the community, which makes everyone less safe.