Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) police have stated this week that the department will relinquish some of the military equipment it acquired through a federal program that gives local law enforcement military supplies. This decision followed the writing of a letter by education and civil rights groups asking the US Department of Defense to end this practice for schools, according to Stephen Caesar of the Los Angeles Times.
The second-largest school district in the US, served by the Los Angeles School Police Department, is one of about 22 school systems that participate in this program. The police department says it will relinquish three grenade launchers, but will keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received from the program. The program became more visible after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, when police rolled out in armored vehicles, wore body armor, and carried assault rifles while dealing with the unrest after the death of an unarmed black 18-year-old, killed by a white policeman.
Since 1997, $5 billion in surplus military equipment has been distributed to law enforcement across the country. After the Newtown 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, school police departments have have felt it was necessary to increase their force and their presence. School officials have argued that guns and equipment are a necessity to prevent any future catastrophes. But, Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, says:
"Military-grade weapons have no place on our public school campuses," Fowler said. "We're simply calling for a return to common sense when it comes to the way our schools are kept safe," she said.
Stockton school police Chief Byron Gustafson stated:
"The job of police officers and the standards are the same whether you are Stockton police or Stockton school police â¦ even if we have very different missions," Gustafson said. "My job is about facilitating education and making sure that students are safe at school."
The armored vehicle is worth $733,000, but many wonder how LAUSD would use it, reports CBS-LA.
"For us? That vehicle would be used for extraordinary circumstances," LAUSD police Chief Steve Zipperman said. "It's something that we believe is a life-saving vehicle, and certainly we realize we need to take a look, is this the best alternative right now for us until we find something else that is more conducive to a police-type of rescue."
The vehicle is stored in a safe and secret place, but the district does not plan on keeping it or the grenade launchers. Zipperman, however, says the the armored vehicle will stay, but will only be deployed on direct orders from him and the approval of the school superintendent.
"I can't allow whatever political ramifications or analysis in Ferguson suggest how I want to make a decision on how to best make sure we respond at the LAUSD," Zipperman said. "To suggest that it's a threatening type of equipment or equipment for a show of force, that is not the case."
Part of the debate, and the letter sent to the Department of Defense concerning the equipment, is based on the extent to which an increase in military-armed police and school officials can prevent higher death numbers in school shootings in the US, according to Reuters. Another is that the presence of military-grade weapons can only exacerbate an already tension-filled situation.
US Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an article for the Associated Press that although there is a possible explanation for surplus equipment going to local police departments, he cannot see how a grenade launcher or an armored vehicle could be a requirement for a school police department. In the Texarkana Independent School District, the district has no plans to return its assault rifles. Florida's chief of Pinellas County schools police has 28 semi-automatic weapons, which he says he hopes they never have to use.