Professor Kathryn Forbes in her op-ed in The Bee (Aug. 11) argues that the Fresno Police Department has historically used a militaristic approach in dealing with crime, and specifically criticizes the City Council approving $200,000 in this year’s budget to purchase a new SWAT vehicle. She feels this purchase is “bonkers” and called it a “police vanity mobile.” She also rejects the common-sense belief that in order to reduce crime and violence, we need more police officers on the street, which would help facilitate more proactive engagement with the community. She, instead, believes that “…decades of disinvestment in shared public goods are at the root of violence” and rather than spend $200,000 on a SWAT vehicle, that money should have been given to Advance Peace. She couldn’t be more wrong.
Professor Forbes’ criticisms of the police and need for the SWAT vehicle reflect her lack of knowledge of the function of the vehicle and what our police face on the streets. Here are the facts: SWAT vehicles are used for implementing high risk search warrants; dealing with a barricaded gunman; serving as a ballistic shield for the SWAT unit; assisting tactical police units; and acting as a command post where officers can be briefed on the dangerous situation and plan operations. The vehicle is also used to carry weapons, equipment and computers. This new vehicle replaces what was used for 42 years —a 1977 converted FAX bus that broke down all the time and had to be towed to crime scenes.
Fresno Police Department also has access to an armored rescue vehicle that they share with Clovis PD and the Fresno Sheriff’s Department. It is used when officers are being fired upon, protects against armor-piercing bullets, and can be used for rescue operations. Professor Forbes might also object to this other “police vanity mobile.”
Rather than spend $200,000 on these kinds of needed vehicles that save lives, Professor Forbes would prefer this money be spent on Advance Peace, an organization that gives criminals $500-$1,000 per month hoping they will not commit more crimes in the future. Advance Peace also sought to have a commitment from the city of $300,000 every year for five years. Wherever this program has been initiated, not surprisingly, there is no evidence that it’s effective. Frankly, spending any taxpayer money on Advance Peace would have been fiscally reckless and completely irresponsible. The program simply doesn’t pass the giggle test.
Despite the tremendous efforts of our police officers to keep our city safe, they are clearly understaffed and sometimes outgunned. We should have at least 1,000 police officers for a city the size of Fresno, but only have 835. We have five officers for the Homeless Task Force and we need 15-20 more to deal with the increasing homeless problem. There are about 1,000 gangs in Fresno and about 18,000-20,000 gang members. These gangs and criminals often have an arsenal of automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines, and armor-piercing bullets.
As a result of Propositions 47, 57, and AB 109, criminal laws have been weakened dramatically, and the criminals know it and are emboldened. This was shockingly evident this past week when in Orange County a career criminal was released early from prison due to AB 109 and went on a murderous rampage knifing to death four innocent people. Heartbreakingly, after a traffic stop in Riverside, an officer was killed in a gun battle.
The attacks against our police are also political. We recently witnessed police officers being assaulted in New York, hesitating to respond due to the political attacks they’ve received there. In California earlier this year, Sacramento politicians attempted to pass a law (AB 392) that would have changed the standard when a police officer uses deadly force. It would have gone from “reasonable” to “necessary.” This would have ensured that our communities were more unsafe as police would be less likely to be proactive in dealing with crime, and might not react quickly enough when faced with life-threatening situations for both themselves and the public. The language in the bill has now been modified.
My job is to make sure the brave men and women of our police department have all the resources, equipment, and support they need to ensure the safety of our community, and also that they return home safely to their families. I take my responsibility seriously. This is why we need to add more police officers, community service officers, 911 dispatchers, and yes, a new SWAT vehicle. While some may criticize our police from ivory towers and without all the facts, I will continue to stand with and support our police officers who every day risk their lives to make us all safe.
Garry Bredefeld represents northeast Fresno on the City Council.