LA School District Reluctantly Gives Up The Grenade Launchers The Pentagon Gave Them
from the safety-first! dept
We’ve been detailing the issue of police militarization for quite some time around here (though the best resource on the issue has been Radley Balko, who wrote an excellent book on the topic). The issue has finally become at least somewhat mainstream, thanks to the high-profile appearance of militarized police responding to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. This has, at the very least, resulted in at least a few police departments thinking better of their decision to accept surplus military gear from the Defense Department via its 1033 program. And the latest is the Los Angeles School Police Department.
Just last week, MuckRock posted on its site about a FOIA request from California, detailing the military equipment given to school police forces. Just the fact that any military equipment is being given to school police should raise some serious questions, but the one that really stood out was that the LA School Police had been given three grenade launchers, along with 61 assault rifles and one MRAP (mine resistant vehicle — the big scary looking armored vehicles that have become one of the key symbols of police militarization). Asked to explain itself, the LA School police chief, Steve Zipperman, claimed that the district had actually received the grenade launchers and the rifles all the way back in 2001 (though the MRAP is brand-spanking-new). But, he claimed, we shouldn’t worry too much, because the police didn’t think of them as “grenade launchers,” but rather “ammunition launchers,” and they were mainly kept around in case other police needed them:
Zipperman said that although the Pentagon identifies the three launchers as grenade launchers, civilian police call them less-deadly ammunition launchers. He assured me that the school police never had any intention of lobbing grenades at anyone, ever, and that they would not be used against students to launch anything. But as a police department, he said, LAUSD?s finest engage in mutual-aid pacts with other police agencies, and the ability to move those launchers out of storage might come in handy.
As for the assault rifles, Zipperman said they were converted to semiautomatic assault rifles — why am I not feeling better yet? — and are used to train a cadre of officers within the department. Those officers in turn are equipped with civilian semiautomatic rifles, which are either kept in locked compartments within their patrol cars, or in more centralized locations, in case of a Columbine High School-type gunman attack.
Either way, with the outrage and backlash growing, the school district police force has now agreed to give up the grenade launchers, but it’s keeping the rifles and the MRAP. The department told the LA Times that the rifles were “essential life-saving items” though no evidence is given of what lives they’ve saved.
That same article at the LA Times quotes someone from the Oakland School Police Department up here in Northern California, who received a “tactical utility truck” from the Pentagon program, saying that the truck is “a rolling public relations vehicle.” Public relations how, exactly? That if the police don’t like the look of you, they may blow your head off? And then there’s this:
“We end up having to bring out a gas can and jumper cables every time we want to drive it ? it’s only used twice a year.”
If they have to bring out the gas can and jumper cables every time they want to use it, it doesn’t sound like it’s particularly useful in those “emergency” situations we keep hearing about in defense of these programs. If there’s suddenly a big emergency, and the police have to go searching for some gas and the jumper cables? Perhaps that just shows how non-“essential” these giveaways are.