Events in Ferguson, Missouri have had a positive effect on at least a couple of California cities. As a result of the chaotic images that came out of there, both Davis and San Jose have decided to send their newly-acquired armored vehicles back to the military.
The Davis, CA Police Department just received their mine-resistant armored truck this month. However, at a city council meeting on Tuesday, a crowd appeared to protest the acquisition of the truck. Some of them wore shirts that read "tank the tank". Davis Police Chief Landry Black also showed up — to argue in favor of keeping it. He 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.”Whatever the 'intention', Ferguson showed the world that the militarization of city police forces can quickly escalate confrontations with peaceful protesters. While the tanks are 'protecting', they are also isolating the police force from the people they serve. At Tuesday's meeting, Davis City Councilman Robb Davis expressed his concern that such purchases, rather than increasing security, may be destructive by increasing the community's anxiety. Showing that he really absorbed the messages of Ferguson, he added:
"Symbol matters. We are a species that uses symbol, and this symbolizes the most destructive force on the planet, which is the U.S. military."Ultimately, the city council voted 4-1 to get rid of the vehicle. The police department has 60 days to do so.
Just two days later, San Jose's police department announced that it, too, would get rid of its MRAP (mine-resistant, ambush-protected troop transport). Theirs has not been used, but has been in storage while being outfitted for street use. The department was weighing its pros and cons even before Ferguson exploded into the news. Police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said:
"It is a useful tool, but we realize it could be viewed by the community as the militarization of SJPD. It could create a divide, and we want the community's trust."Community trust would seem to be basic to a well-functioning police force. Unfortunately, other Bay Area communities — such as South San Francisco and Redwood — are hanging onto their military equipment while defending their decision. Micaela Davis, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, wonders how things got to this point. She praised the San Jose PD for its decision but said:
"It brings up questions about whether it was needed in the first place. It's why public hearings should be required on the front end."The public should have a say about what they're financing and its impact on them. There's often a big split between their opinions and the attitudes of rank-and-file officers. Sgt. Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, spoke for the rank-and-file. He defended having "the best" equipment available, which is military equipment. But LaDoris Cordell, who is both the city's Independent Police Auditor and a retired judge, said:
"SJPD, if it is to continue its efforts to build trust with the communities it serves, must not go down the path of militarization."The fact that the officers within the department can't grasp that truth is a problem. In the aftermath of Ferguson, every police department in America should be evaluating how to win the public's trust — especially those that are already militarized. Every single police department should be questioning, How do we view the people we serve? Hint: the community should not be viewed as the enemy.