Police Union Urges San Jose to Rethink Use of Combat Vehicles

Images from Ferguson of camo-clad snipers, armored trucks and suburban cops equipped with the accouterments of war ignited a debate about the militarization of local law enforcement.

To assuage a concerned public, police agencies throughout the nation have returned military gear obtained through a federal surplus program. The San Jose Police Department relinquished a 15-ton mine-resistant vehicle, despite protests from the rank and file.

But a SWAT team’s response to the San Bernardino shootings earlier this month has again shifted the conversation. Officers responded like a small army, rolling up to the scene in fleets of Bearcats. Immediately, police and pundits pointed to the massacre as an example of why domestic cops need military tools and tactics.

James Gonzales, vice president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, says the attacks in Southern California and Paris should prompt the city to reconsider its stance on combat vehicles.

“It’s time for a re-examination of the use of militarized vehicles by law enforcement agencies,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Mercury News, “and the costs of putting political correctness above public safety.”

Concerns about police militarization should focus on de-escalation tactics, training, oversight and community engagement, he wrote. Instead of giving up its mine-resistant truck, the San Jose Police Department should have justified the need for it, he added.

“Explaining what an armored vehicle is and why it is necessary to protect the public and police in an emergency is important,” he said. “San Jose shouldn’t reject this life saving apparatus because those in charge are unwilling to do the hard work of engaging the community.”

Gonzales pointed to the controversy about the SJPD drone as an example. While the city took some heat for acquiring the remote-controlled flying camera, it quelled fears of police surveillance by working with residents to craft a policy limiting its use to the bomb squad. In an age of mass shootings, he argued, police need military-grade weaponry.

It should be noted, however, that the call for de-militarizing police stemmed from a perceived misuse of combat gear. Backlash came after cops in Ferguson, Missouri, deployed the same equipment against civilians protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown.

Just before the events in Ferguson, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report titled, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Of the 800 paramilitary raids examined by the ACLU in the course of its yearlong investigation, 80 percent were for routine police work such as executing search warrants at people’s homes.

The dialogue about de-militarization also highlighted a lack of transparency around officer-involved shootings. According to Washington Post database, police have shot and killed more than 940 people so far this year. That's double the number recorded any previous year by federal officials.

In his op-ed, Gonzales wrote that police play the role of both “guardian and warrior.”

Sue Rahr, a retired sheriff and member of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, urged police to consider themselves foremost as guardians. Being trained and equipped for war could feed into the warrior mentality, she wrote, unless those resources are coupled with proper training and public oversight.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

40 Comments

  1. Ah, yes……Further proof that “Serve and Protect” has become “Search and Destroy”

    • John L,

      “To protect and to serve”, is a slogan written on the side of LAPD police cars, it is not in the police code of ethics, nor in any California POST manual.

      When did the last person you were called upon to help immediately engage you in a violent fight? Have you ever confronted someone for doing something wrong and been met with a violent reaction or attempt to badly injure you or take your life?

      • John L is just another keyboard warrior who knows everything about everything…Nothing like making such a stupid statement on the heels of a great rescure of shooting victims in SB TROLL

        • An armed security guard would have been more effective. The cops arrived too late. Armored vehicles did nit stop the killings. Regular rounds fired into the SUV did.

          • Regular rounds? I saw their patrol cars. They had AR’s in the racks… Guessing a lot of .223 found its way into that SUV Im sure you would have done better Robyn Hodge…. Now run off I think Batman is looking for you to clean his outfit.

  2. Command sense, no brainer… another example where you listen to what the president says and do exactly the opposite. Bring back th MRAP and perhaps add to the fleet.

    • The MRAP was never banned by the president — for that matter he explicitly approved it as equipment that can still be requested; of all the vehicles only the one previously available tracked vehicle was banned. San Jose’s elected officials are the ones who sent the MRAP away. All Obama did was add layers of accountability — they must have a plan of use, a policy, a training plan, and and understand how specifically requested equipment should not be used by police.

      Unfortunately, SJPD paid a dear price, unable to access an officer that they believed was possibly still alive, under fire, because they no longer had an armored vehicle. Maybe if it had been Average Joe laying on the ground as we watched him die, the public would have cared.

      That people generally believe they’re banned goes to the horrible reporting we see nationwide, to include virtually all our local sources. It just takes the effort of planning, creating policy and training — something a department should do for virtually any equipment they purchase.

  3. I suspect Mr Obama would like to be bombing the bad guys at home with drones if congress had not raised hell about it a few years ago. Perhaps most of those 940 dead were part of the presidents catch and release program.

    With this kind of upside down logic we should get ride of fire trucks to prevent water damage to burning buildings.
    Keep the truck that’s all it is!

  4. > Being trained and equipped for war could feed into the warrior mentality, she wrote, unless those resources are coupled with proper training and public oversight.

    This is one of the things I worry about.

    “To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    I also recall a comment awhile back by Barbara Boxer urging military action somewhere in the Middle East.

    “We pay all this money for a military. When are we going to use it”?

    I confess that I haven’t thought long and deep about this, but my initial instinct is that the role of “SWAT team” or “special ops” should be given to trained units of the National Guard, and called in by the Governor on request of the local authorities.

    Every local government does not need its own armored strike force.

    • So when the mass shooting or terrorist event unfolds and you are one of the victims waiting for help, it will be comforting to know properly equipped and trained help will be on the way as soon as the Governor can be reached, and the National Guard can be activated!!! That’s your plan? Let’s run that plan by the survivors that were rescued in the San Bernardino event and get their take on it. Truly amazing thought process outside the bubble for sure!!!!!!

    • Mr. SJO Bubble,

      Please, Oh Great One, share with us your wisdom and vast knowledge of armed encounters. Help us to see the way!

      Hypothetical Scenario:

      Two extremists enter a school or other area where there are a large number of innocent people (Maybe in an urban area, sort of like San Bernandino). The extremists are willing, even eager, to fight to the death. They are wearing body armor that they purchased over the internet, from some nefarious source or even made themselves (It’s not that difficult to make, it’s just bulkier than “store-bought”). Even though it is illegal to possess such firearms in California, the extremists are armed with so-called assault-style rifles that fire ammunition that will penetrate through your body armor and your patrol car (unless it hits the relatively small area of the engine block) like a hot ice pick through butter. The suspects have already crossed the psychological barrier of actually killing a human being and are continuing to do so without hesitation and with fanatical religious zeal.

      You know from training that your handgun and shotgun rounds will likely not penetrate their body armor (as in the North Hollywood shoot-out); but instead your handgun and shotgun ammunition may have an effect similar to a golf ball thrown against a brick wall. You know too that you are responsible for every single round you fire, while the suspects can fire indiscriminately, hit and kill whoever they want and don’t have to worry about hitting bystanders, or department policy,or getting fired, or getting criminally charged or getting sued later or the media aftermath.

      When you arrive at the scene, you have no idea where the suspects are; how many of them there are, how they are armed; how they will react to you; or how many people have already been injured or killed. The sound of high volume rifle fire indicates the suspects are probably moving but their direction of travel is unclear. You know that (in uniform) you are instantly identifiable and your likely points of approach have already been anticipated by the suspects. They will probably see you come across open space and will anticipate the door you will enter through and see you long before you see them and may decide then to open fire or set off an explosive. As you approach the first building, you find, scattered about the doorway, several human bodies groaning and/or laying in ever widening pools of blood, along with splattered brains, and other “organ meat”.

      So, Mr. SJO Bubble: Solve the Problem.

      You may have a PD issued handgun and a duty belt. You may not use any available paramilitary-looking equipment (no armored vehicle, no specialized rifles, no heavy duty body armor, and no teams fitted out with specialized gear or given extra training and practice . Also, make sure you don’t offend anyone, don’t racial profile anyone; don’t act on “implicit bias” or “white privilege” and be as sensitive as possible. Oh, and it will take the National Guard (an odd solution you mentioned) at least a day or two to respond, if the governor allows them to respond at all.

      I left out one piece of specialized equipment that an officer I know carried in the pocket of his uniform shirt for 30 years. It was a folded up letter addressed to his wife and kids. Fortunately, they never had to read the letter or handle a folded flag.

      • > So, Mr. SJO Bubble: Solve the Problem.

        You have more or less illustrated the point I made:

        “To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

        You have basically defined a scenario, which is statistically highly unlikely, and then concluded: “See! We need a hammer!”

        My position — undoubtedly very politically incorrect and one which NO politician would ever say — is that life is full of risks, and the costs of preparing for all possible risks is unsupportable.

        It is ridiculous to arm, equip, and train every local police department with armored tactical units on 24/7 alert for very, very improbable eventualities.

        In case you haven’t noticed — most progressive politicians certainly haven’t noticed — mass shootings seem to occur with very high frequency in “gun free zones”. Terrorists are AWARE of the target environment.

        If San Jose or San Bernardino has an armored police ornament, the terrorists can EASILY plan to neutralize it or do their damage before the “first responders” can make their first response.

        What effing good would a tactical armored vehicle have done in the Boston bombing or in San Bernardino for that matter.

        In all likelihood, it would have probably tempted the police authorities to do something sub-optimal or ridiculous just to prove that their armored elephant was good idea.

  5. No. The Police do *not* need military equipment. “Officers responded like a small army” It is not the job of the police to make war with the citizens and they should not conduct themselves like an army against the citizens.

    • Jim,

      If Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik fall under your definition of “citizens”, then I encourage you to seek help at a mental health facility or citizenship in a country far, far away.

      • People like Jim are irrelevant and worship at the liberal alter while sucking their thumb.

  6. The SJPD has a former Deputy Chief to thank for this action. This same DC was a critic of many crucial department policies that essentially encouraged criminal activity and discouraged critical enforcement action by police personnel.

    “Sue Rahr, a retired Sheriff..” – That’s all I needed to read. The last time Sue probably did any real police work in the streets was prior to becoming an administrator at least 2-3 decades ago. By my summation, that means she knows slightly more than your average citizen about what a police officer on the street in today’s world actually experiences on a daily basis.

  7. Local police must not gain access to military equipment under any circumstance. It can only lead to abuse, like we’ve seen over and over. Oh yeah, they are drooling over these shiny new toys, and that’s exactly the reason why they shouldn’t have them. Enough with the killings already.

    • “The killings”? Have you looked around at the crime demographics “Sheila” ? Are you referring to the double digits killing every weekend in major cities like Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit? You seem to know something that the rest of us dont… Or was your homeboy child arrested by the popo too many times?

  8. This is over the top! It will serve to further alienate the citizenry from law enforcement. The military assault vehicles did not stop any attack. An armed security guard or someone with a concealed carry permit would have been more effective in San Bernardino. The bullet riddled SUV tells the tale.
    People should be able and willing to defend themselves. The cops will not be there to protect you.

    • Robyn,

      You have failed to read and/or comprehend the articles presented here. James Gonzales made the argument that the decision to give the MRAP away was made without attempting to engage the community and develop a policy or collaborative understanding of when the vehicle would be used and its purpose.

      You clearly don’t understand the dynamics of this type of an attack. A planned attack like this can only be thwarted through advanced intelligence. If someone with an assault rifle ambushes a large group of innocent, unarmed people, there will be mass casualties. No one has argued that the Bearcats or an MRAP would have prevented the attacks.

      An armed Security Guard or person with a concealed carry permit would have been riddled with 5.56 rounds and most likely killed. The .223/5.56 round is meant to create lethal internal trauma upon entering into the body. The round is designed to tumble end over end and break apart into splinter like pieces. These rounds will penetrate almost all of the body armor worn by regular police officers. An AR-15 can be assembled with very little knowledge and is no more difficult to purchase than any other firearm, people even legally build unregistered versions of the weapon with no serial number and no way to trace its existence. This is why countless law enforcement agencies equip their officers with AR-15’s because attempting to fight against a rifle with a 9mm/.40/.45cal pistol is like a Civic racing against a Corvette. We learned this as a nation as we watched the infamous North Hollywood bank robbers out-gun numerous police officers with superior fire power for almost 45 minutes.

      And yes, chances are the police will not be there to protect you. The police cannot be everywhere at all times nor predict where radical extremists decide to ambush innocent people. They did eliminate the threat, did they not?

      • One round of sufficient caliber to the head of the attacker would have stopped that one. You have no idea how it would have played out had people been armed in the building.
        Insulting others who disagree with you does not further the discussion. It is a shallow and disingenuous tactic.
        We must be prepared to protect ourselves.

        • Robyn,

          Where did I insult you? I made it clear that you failed to comprehend the message of the article, and you do not understand the dynamics of an ambush nor combatting one with offensive gunfire. Those are facts Robyn, and you’ve clearly demonstrated your lack of understanding by your next offering – “One round of sufficient caliber to the head of the attacker would have stopped that one.”

          I’m not sure how proficient you are with a pistol, especially the smaller types that people often use for concealed carry weapons. Anyone who can make a head shot in an effective area with a pistol while facing rifle fire from a distance greater than 7-10 yards, is either very lucky or they are a very accomplished marksman. Contrary to what the movies and TV show you, pistol rounds do not just penetrate the skull wherever they land. You would need to either strike the ears/temple or the occular/nasal/mouth cavity in order to stop the threat. On most people, that’s roughly a 6-8″ diameter target. Under extreme stress, and facing fire from a rifle, along with a smaller framed pistol (hypothetically), that’s a feat.

    • Robyn,

      I admire your pluck. I am all in favor of decent citizens owning guns and carrying them all around, as they do in Israel.

      However, one is no more able to defend oneself because they have a gun than they are able to play in the Boston Pops because they own a violin. One must practice and the practice must be relevant to the likely use of the chosen firearm. Punching holes in paper targets is fun but not particularly realistic.

      Try this: Load up the firearm of your choice. Now, get an 8”-10” balloon or, if you will be going for the headshot, as you mentioned, then use a 3”-4” balloon. Tie the balloon to a 4-5 foot string and the string to a weight that can be moved by the balloon’s weight but will prevent it from blowing away. (A computer mouse works well.) Place the balloon about 25-50 yards downrange and scatter several full size silhouette targets around the area of the balloon. A very tiny breeze enhances realism.

      Start walking toward the balloon, with your gun in a ready or “search” position, then on a random signal, start firing and try to hit the balloon without hitting any of the silhouette targets. If you can do this 10 times out of 10, before someone with a shotgun or semi -auto rifle, at the same distance, can hit the balloon, while the former fires from a braced position and who acts as the random start signal, can hit the same target while firing indiscriminately without regard for any of the silhouette (“bystander”) targets, I will concede your point that police do not need the dreaded, so-called, “military equipment” or specialized teams. For added fun, repeat this exercise using 2 or more balloons while someone is firing at you with a paintball gun too. If you don’t have a facility to practice this exercise, then just tie a balloon in your back yard and follow it with a pointed finger or use a paintball gun.

      This exercise does not take into account the “psychological barrier” of actually shooting a human being; of firing repeatedly until the suspect falls to the ground amongst a red mist spraying out his opposite side as you fire. If you are ever in this unfortunate circumstance, here is a word of advice. After the suspect goes down and you disarm him, whether you give him first aid or not, DO NOT talk to him or look at his face.

  9. So tell me again how having a 15 ton armored vehicle that was discarded by the military as irreverent will make our community safer? Is it for the police to hide in during outbreaks of turmoil or just because another police agency has one? One should not gauge the size, or lack of, their body parts by the equipment they choose to bolster their believed effectiveness. I like Nevada County leaders who were told that the vehicle was for Search and Rescue and when they bought that the Police loaded it up with automatic military guns and grenade launchers. Don’t remember folks lost in the woods needing protective assistance with assault rifles or grenade launchers but what the heck, it’s all about how you sell the BS, right?

  10. So if the San Bernardino PD had these vehicles then the attack wouldn’t have happened?

    • Ella,

      What article did you read where you gathered this argument from?

      If you read the article above as well as James Gonzales’ op-ed in the Murky News, and this was this is what you gathered, you may want to inquire about some educational opportunities with your local community college or Adult Education agency.

  11. This big and scary 15 ton armored vehicle is to safely evacuate people in the midst of a terrorist attack. You folks are dense.

  12. Too,

    Fortunately for you, you’re entitled to read James Gonzales’ op-ed as many times as you would like! You can even print it out, highlight it and make notes in the margins!

    How you transitioned to discussing human anatomy (while interjecting strange, juvenile innuendo) in relation to a serious matter involving the protection of law enforcement and citizens during critical incidents is disturbing. Is that all you can think about?

    I’m glad you like Nevada County leaders. Maybe you should move there. You should learn how to effectively spin your BS before you move though, because no one ever said their MRAP was for “Search and Rescue.” It was designated for activities such as “Serving Search Warrants” and “High risk Rescue situations.”

    • I believe “too” has underlying anger issues with police and authority that run deeper than this article. That is the only way I can reasonably attempt to understand his or her nonsensical rant that is based on flawed band camp stories. Grenade launchers ? Really? Perhaps TOO has been smoking TOO much cannabis?

  13. Has the city (and country by extension) really fundamentally changed such that we need to militarize? Or are we overreacting to extremely uncommon scenarios we see on tv?
    I think it would be a sad day when SJPD start to advertise jobs for machine gunners and tank drivers. I think most of us don’t want Rambo for a cop when Andy Griffith can get the job done 99.99% of the time. For those other extremely rare times with multiple shooters with assault rifles, how about just coordinating better with SWAT and national guard or other actual military quick response units? A “red phone” seems like a good compromise.

  14. I believe in safety, both for the public as well as those who serve in uniform. I just feel we’d be losing something if we were to start to see our police turn into an armed service.
    Just for comparison, Mexico uses federal troops armed with assault rifles for many jobs that police would do here. It is unsettling but maybe some people would get used to it.
    In England, in comparison, very few bobbies even carry pistols. In Sweden, you rarely see police at all. I don’t mean to imply causality, just saying that with wisdom in our choices we can try to stay the sort of country we want to live in.
    The image I have in my mind is from football: the original leather football helmets and cotton sweaters vs. today’s gridiron helmets and hard plastic pads — I’m inclined to believe the way the game has changed has been influenced by the equipment used and not just the other way around.

      • Hi Frank, your point is that so far we’re just talking about an armored vehicle. Understood. I’m concerned we’d be starting a trend of transferring military equipment to police use, and I would not like that artery to grow. The MRAP itself is just one step, and not the final outcome I would like to avoid.

  15. I’m surprised Gonzales cited SJPD’s drone policy as an example of good community engagement considering the department had to apologize for acquiring it in secret and not having a use policy in place. Even now many people feel the pilot program is just a bait and switch ploy to implement a more intrusive policy later when not as many people are attentive.