Schools Acquire Grenade Launchers, MRAPs and Other Military Equipment -- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Saying they never know when a hostage-taker or shooter could strike, more than 20 school districts across the county have been acquiring surplus military equipment from the Pentagon, including armored personnel carriers, high-powered rifles and other weaponry, according to a handful of press accounts.
The school districts and campus security forces range in size from small Saddleback College in southern California, whose nine-member squad received a MRAP—mine resistant ambush protected—vehicle, their college newspaper reported, to Los Angeles Unified School District, which received 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and one MRAP, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. San Diego’s school district also requested and received an MRAP. In Edinburg, Texas, the district has its own SWAT team, according to The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group, which tried to conduct a national survey and counted more than 20 districts in eight states taking the free weaponry.
“It is frankly difficult to imagine how a grenade launcher, or any of these items, could be safely used in any scenario involving schools,” the civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the federal program’s administrators, noting that there’s a big difference between prudent policing and paramilitary excesses. “Taxpayer dollars should be steered away from investments in increased law enforcement and militarization of schools and towards supporting solutions that address the root causes of school safety concerns and provide students with the services and supports they need to succeed.”
“Undoubtedly, Saddleback’s new MRAP will strike fear into the hearts of the countless drug dealers and terrorists that make up the student body at Saddleback,” the Daily Titan, the student paper editorialized. “The campus police officers will also be safer than ever from any stray frisbees or overzealous Greenpeace volunteers. Despite the obvious benefits of having a 38,000-pound war machine on a community college campus, the effectiveness and need for such a vehicle is certainly questionable.”
The schools receive the surplus military weaponry under several federal programs. The Pentagon gives it away under the so-called 1033 program, which has transferred $5 billion worth of gear to more than half of the nation’s 17,000 local police departments, program administrators testified last week in the Senate. The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice also grant programs that pay for more supplies—which accounts for the same militarized appearance of local police in protest marches and drug raids.
School district police defended their military weaponry, saying they could be used to rescue students in violent circumstances.
Steve Zipperman, chief of L.A. Unified’s police department, told the Los Angeles Times that school police never use the weaponry against students, adding one reason that school police have military weapons is because they engage in mutual-aid pacts with other police agencies. In 1997, L.A. police found they were outgunned during a confrontation with shooters at one school, the paper said.
“When we have an emergency at a school, we’ve got to get in and save kids,” San Diego Unified School District Police Department Joe Florentino told a KPBS, that city’s public television station. “Our idea is: How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter? If there’s a fire [or] if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall? Stuff like that.”
According to San Diego’s KPBS, the MRAP, costing taxpayers $730,000, arrived last spring and students in an auto body repair class painted it in one assignment.
“There is a fine line between preparedness and excess,” the Saddleback College editorial concluded. “While major police departments are usually justified in their acquisition and use of most equipment, a nine-man community college police department owning a military vehicle definitely crosses the line of excess. Aside from lending its MRAP to neighboring police departments, there are almost no practical situations where Saddleback’s MRAP could be used effectively or tactically.”