School police officers are carrying AR-15s in one Utah district to help in "rapid response" situations."
The Granite School Police District is under scrutiny this week from local television and print media for arming their officers with semi-automatic weapons, but a spokesman for the district told TheBlaze they've actually been carrying these weapons for five years.
"In 2005 we received three M-16 type, semi-automatic weapons under the 1033 program; they are the same kind that were used in the Vietnam war," Ben Horsley, Granite School Police Department spokesman, told TheBlaze.
The Department of Defense 1033 military surplus program gives law enforcement agencies across the nation extra, unused weapons.
"The weapons technically still belong to the federal government but are used by us to save taxpayer dollars and give us a precision weapons," Horsley said.
In 2009, the police department purchased 13 additional AR-15s so each member of the force could have one to carry in their vehicles.
"It's important to note these are not machine guns, they are semi-automatics — at most they do a three-round bursts. We found that in a rapid-response situation, we needed to be able to equip our offices for that type of emergency situation because they wouldn't be able to wait for backup," Horsley said.
"In an active shooter situation, we would not expect our officers to go into that situation without being properly equipped, and at longer distances a handgun and shotgun are not as effective," he said.
Parents interviewed by local KSL-TV said although they have mixed feelings about the decision, they would rather have officers equipped to handle an emergency to protect their kids.
“It's kind of scary sending them off to school every morning,” said parent Melissa Stevens. “You never know what's going to happen."
Granite School Police Chief Randy Johnson said their role is to protect students and reassure parents.
"If we don't get in and stop the shooter, more people are going to die,” Johnson told KSL-TV.
Horsley said the Salt Lake Tribune filed an open records request on all active 1033 program participants in Utah, and discovered that the department had the M-16s.
"They then also realized we have the AR-15s ... it wasn't like we were hiding the information but it is somehow news now."
Granite is an urban school district directly south of Salt Lake City, where five of the seven municipalities rank in the top 10 crime areas of the state. It includes 92 schools.
"Regrettably it's a high-crime area and our force is intended to supplement the need for security," Horsley said. "The crime in the area migrates to the schools."
Horsley said that on Dec. 17, 2012, first school day back after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., a young student brought a gun to school in their district and it sent shock waves through the community.
"Adam Lanza had an AR-15, I believe, they are widely available to the public, and its a matter of providing the police officers to meet the threat they might face, especially when the safety of the students is at risk," Horsley said.
The Granite School District Police department hails the following mission statement on their site:
"To maintain a clean, safe, secure and uninterrupted learning environment for the students, staff, administration and patrons of Granite School District. To provide concentrated assistance in implementing sound crime and violence reduction programs, including components of a safe school climate, community involvement, building design, building security and maintenance, and the fostering of strong, cooperative relationships between schools, police, and courts."
Granite District school hallways are also now lined with high-tech camera systems courtesy of the department, to allow officers to watch for dangerous situations from inside their dispatch center.
Watch Granite School District Police Chief Randy Johnson explain their use of the AR-15s.
(H/T: NBC News)
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