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.

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Comments on “LA School District Reluctantly Gives Up The Grenade Launchers The Pentagon Gave Them”

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Avatar says:

Re: Re: starting

The thing can probably start… for the military.

The military doesn’t just pile these up in an old barn. There are depot personnel who keep them maintained, working out of a manual on how to keep them maintained, which tells them exactly what they need to do to keep them maintained. (The manual is probably more or less correct, though it might leave a thing or two out, along the lines of “man, nobody thought THAT would break…) The depot personnel’s job is to keep these things maintained. Occasionally, if everything is being done properly, someone will inspect the vehicles and make sure that they’re working, i.e. that the maintenance is actually being done. If they’re not, someone gets their ass jumped over it.

Take the same vehicle and park it at a police yard. The police don’t have someone on staff whose job it is to keep the MRAP ready at all times. They neglect the maintenance. They probably don’t work out of the military manual for maintaining the thing (not necessarily maliciously, but reading military manuals is an acquired skill, no?) They probably don’t inspect it to make sure it’s working. They don’t expect to really need it, at least not without plenty of warning, and if they DO get a call to use it and it’s not working, oh well, they just do without. (What, are they gonna hit land mines?)

The military is good at warehousing big stocks of things because it does a hell of a lot of that. Cops don’t. There’s no surprise that cops would suck at this while the military is pretty good at it.

(yes, yes, “pretty good” is a long way from “perfect”, I’ve heard plenty of depot horror stories too… but at least there are procedures and it has a good chance of working properly!)

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: starting

The military also tends to have more than one of the things. Oh, that particular truck is in maintenance? Oh well, we’ve got six more. Vehicles are always broken down, but the military tends to have extras (for good reason, training requirements are rarely as high as operational requirements, and the inventory is based on operational requirements).

If you only have one MRAP, and you only maintain it semi-annually rather than weekly like the military does, I’m amazed they work at all.

Also, an MRAP has a bit more parts than a tractor. They don’t look very fancy on the outside but there is some serious gear in an MRAP or most other military vehicles (the lowly 7-ton has a supercharged engine with a ton of electronic components and failsafes). They don’t work well without maintenance…but since they always have a crew of people maintaining it, it’s working as intended.

Either way there’s no reason for the police, especially school police, to have an MRAP. We already have a National Guard, with people actually trained to use this stuff. It seems silly to give it to unqualified personnel.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The deficit cannot and should not be paid down. The result would be a disastrous economic meltdown that would make the first great depression look like a permanent walk in the central park.

The nature of “debts” of a monetary sovreign (read US government, but not for example the individual states, or EMU member states, for example) is such that the “debt” is literally the money in circulation.

A monetary sovreign spends money into existence, and destroys the money by taxing it away.

The only other method of money creation, bank lending to individuals and corporations, is currently unavailable as the overall level of private debt is at an apex. Private debt literally cannot be pumped up anymore. Thus the monetary base is set at current level or will decline.

Currently the debt load and the associated interest payment streams overwhelm current incomes. This situation will not change until deleveraging of the entire private economy has been accomplished one way or another.

A declining situation in monetary base is a massive disaster, read: second great depression will come back with a revenge. Currently it’s only being held at bay with government expenditure. Too bad that expenditure is only targeted at utterly useless military crap and not at transforming our energy production, but that ‘s a different matter entirely.

SolkeshNaranek (profile) says:

Being prepared

So many people squawking about how the LA school district police are becoming militarized.

You will be singing a different tune when the school district police run into another child that chews a pop tart into a vague pistol shape.

These dangerous pop tart chewing children only understand overwhelming force, and the police need that edge.


aerilus says:

Re: Re:

the grenade launches launch tear gas and non lethal bean bags. I dont have a problem with them having these they probably should have them and be trained on them. i dont really mind them having tasers either. or 12 gauges that fire non lethal rounds. why arent they focusing on non lethal rather than an ar-15 with a 30 round mag. the first guy in the door on a swat team is the guy with a shield and a service side arm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“why arent they focusing on non lethal rather than an ar-15 with a 30 round mag.”

And here I thought schools were focused upon education – go figure. Guess the students need indoctrination more than they need an education – the constant fear makes for more subservient and hard working GOP voting wage slaves. So yeah, need more unannounced terrorist drills.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“And here I thought schools were focused upon education”

Reading this article made me wonder how dangerous schools are over in the US. Or maybe you are teaching the kids the wrong things?

Over here in the UK we do not have police officers in schools, we do not have a special police force for schools. What is wrong with your country?


Re: Just Gortex

There’s no real difference between an M-16 and AR-15 when it comes to hitting your target. The difference (if any) is going to be pretty superficial on the outside (selector switch) and invisible on the inside (lower receiver).

There will be no burst option which no one uses because it doesn’t conform to military doctrine as it relates to discharging a firearm.

Stop watching A-Team reruns.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just Gortex

Assuming they are training on an M16 and then using an AR15 in the field, why are our tax dollars paying for both weapons to be maintained?

Don’t you just train on the AR15 and call it a day?

If there is no difference (which I agree there isn’t) what they are currently doing makes even less sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just Gortex

The difference is that the Federal government paid for the M16s and the local government paid for the AR15s. That means that they were able to get a bunch of Military-grade weapons outside their regular budget, and they use those for training as they’ll take more abuse from people unused to handling them.

Not saying it makes sense, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly why they’re doing it.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The training for an M-16 is identical to the training for an AR-15. The only meaningful difference between the two is lack of burst fire for the AR-15, but since that is almost never used for training, the difference is largely academic. Heck, burst fire is rarely used in combat.

I can’t really think of a situation where I’d rather have burst than a hammer pair (two quick pulls of the trigger) and a shot to the head or groin. The latter is how the military is trained to shoot so in a combat situation few people are going to switch to burst (it’s also slightly more likely to cause jams).

That being said, I absolutely disagree with police using AR-15s. The AR-15 fires the same round that the M-16 does, the 5.56mm. A 5.56 round is designed for maximum penetration and fragmentation and tends to easily travel through walls, normal vehicles, and other obstacles. It’s a high velocity, low mass bullet. It’s great for long range combat against armored enemies that may be hiding behind cover.

The reason 9mm is so popular in police forces is because it’s the opposite…a low velocity (relatively speaking), high mass bullet that tends to expand on impact. This causes it to have moderately high stopping power but flatten and stop when hitting walls and other obstacles. This is good for unarmored targets in an urban area where you are trying to minimize potential collateral damage if you miss your target.

AR-15s are a danger to everyone around the police forces, almost more than any theoretical school shooter they could come up against. It’s using a weapon designed for a “weapon’s free” environment against an opposing military force in an urban environment filled will civilians. It’s stupid and reckless, and there is no justification that makes killing innocent civilians to fight against a crazy person acceptable when it can be avoided by using different weapons.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: In the land of the blind.

The M27 (IAR) also has fully automatic fire, although I suppose you could consider it an automatic weapon (although it typically fires from a standard 30-round magazine).

Full auto has its place, specifically in supression. I would just never use it in an area where you’re worried about collateral damage (like anywhere police are operating).

anonymous Dutch coward says:

40 mm

I can’t find it anywhere, but my guess is that de grenade launchers are 40 mm single shot or multiple shot launchers like the m79 or Milkor. Very useful for shooting tear gas grenades at people who are looting liquor stores after police shot dead another unarmed civilian with one of those rifles they got from the military.

Bruce says:

Re: Grenade Launchers

Last time I looked, “Military” grenade launchers (M-79, M2043 etc. fire a 40mm grenade / flare or whatever.

There ARE “other models of the same toys for use by NON military types that are 0f 37mm calibre. These are mainly used for launching tear-gas and “rubber bullets” or rubber “shot” for “non-lethal attitude adjustment”. HE ammo is NOT available (or supposed to be) for the 37mm variants.

But, with the inversion of roles of the police and armed forces, anything is possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

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 what sort of ammunition do they launch?

and they were mainly kept around in case other police needed them

Why not just let those other police have them, then? Though I don’t know why regular police should need this sort of “‘ammunition’ launcher” either.

ok a 2nd time says:

as this topic gets more attention..

.. i need to know if the topic has been entertain that our governing bodies are buying these vehicles and gear with public tax dollars, then RESELLING them to public entities who pay with more tax dollars? Even if it is ‘free’, its not free. And when its not ‘free’, they double dipping again into tax dollars when those public entities buy them.

Why hasn’t this conversation occurred yet?

Anonymous Coward says:

Time to arm the kindergartners!

The only way to end this tyranny is to extend the second amendment rights to all who are subject to this police force. If even just the kindergartners were all armed with grenade launchers as well, problem solved. Now, granted, training four and five year olds to use them safely may be expensive, but it’s the cost of freedom!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have a better idea....

It’s better than that… defense contractors get contracts to make this stuff for the military, and then DHS buys the surplus with taxpayer money and gives it to local law enforcement. So the military doesn’t even get to touch this stuff. Some of it isn’t even stuff the military WOULD buy for themselves, from what I’ve heard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Recovering costs

> Wouldn’t it be better to stop wasting tax dollars on this nonsense and pay down the deficit?

Sorry, the money was spent when the MRAP was built. They aren’t being built-to-order for distribution. The US government is diverting them (unused) from the scrap heap. See also , though these are unused in the US instead of in Afghanistan.

Even if the MRAP is returned to the government, its scrap value is scarcely reduced. What you DO lose is the municipal budget spent to transport and maintain the white elephant in the room.

… which after transport cost is paid, isn’t much more than that of an extra patrol car. Less, even, since the MRAP sees fewer road miles, is less likely to get into a traffic accident. And when it eventually breaks down goes to a scrap heap instead of a repair shop. (Where ya gonna go to fix it up, after all?)

dfed (profile) says:

What the hell was the thought process behind this in the first place?

“We need to bring freedom the swing set and be greeted as liberators by the 4th grade recess! THERE ARE WMD’s IN PANTS! INVADE!”

I mean, if you’re looking to grow terrorists, sure treat a middle school like Baghdad. There’ll be IED’s made out of markers and play-doh going off and tribal wars over pokemons, but you sure as shit won’t be protecting anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

The officers. Keeps ’em from being bored to death.
Presumably they enjoy frightening the children by firing the occasional shot over their heads and then threatening to hunt down and murder their families if they tell anyone. It’s what I’d do if I was an utterly irredeemable sociopath in a position of power.

Brendan Spaar (profile) says:

I think it ironic that on 9-11 I read that the Dept of Defense gave 12 M-16 weapons to both my college and another small college in Louisiana. Their reason for having them is in case of mass shooting or student riots. These 2 colleges, ULM in Monroe, La and Northwestern in Natchitoches, La are about the least likely places to need them.
Student population in Natchitoches is around 9,000 & approximately 8,527 in Monroe. About the only thing that gets people excited in these places is the start of hunting season or the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights.

Not only is the idea of weapons like that on campus a crazy idea, think of how many of our tax dollars were spent to buy the weapons.Gear through the 1033 program is free to participating departments,with receiving agencies having to pay only delivery and maintenance costs. The University of Louisiana at Monroe paid $507.43 for 12 M-16 rifles.

There are budget shortfalls in almost every US school district and colleges are cutting professors, classes and other “luxuries” in an effort to stretch the educational dollar. I think the government money spent on the weapons could have been better used to educate students on how to avoid the need to use them. Will we be seeing them for sale on Craigslist one day?

LewisV (profile) says:


Law enforcement is supposed to be layered. If school security can’t handle it, then local police assist. If local PD can’t deal, then state or national guard are to assist. One organization should not be the all-in-one response solution. I believe they refer to those as terrorists. Which is how I would view them and treat them as such. I would say this is how the government should view them, but they are too old and stupid to realize it.

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