A war-worthy, mine-resistant vehicle now sits in a school police garage in San Diego.
The San Diego Unified School District Police Department now has the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in its arsenal, another hand-me-down through the Defense Department's "excess property" 1033 program, according to the KNSD-TV.
“We recognize the public concern over perceived ‘militarization of law enforcement,’ but nothing could be further from the truth for school police,” San Diego school police spokesman Capt. Joseph Florentino said in a release.
The allocation comes as politicians are asking tough questions this week about the use of military equipment by police departments around the country, which may have further inflamed tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
In a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioned Pentagon officials on why they supplied local police with 12,000 bayonets.
"I can't answer what a local police force would need a bayonet for," said Alan Estevez, principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.
"I can give you an answer: none," Paul snapped in reply.
Earlier, Paul said that many cities that get the vehicles assume they would be best used for riot suppression — including the city of Dundee, Michigan, with 3,900 residents, among nearly 25 other cities under 25,000 which have been given MRAPs.
"I think by supplying all of this free equipment, much of which is, frankly, inappropriate, really shouldn’t be on anybody’s list of authorized equipment," Paul said.
Though administrators in San Diego say the MRAP will only be used for rescues, the vehicles are capable of withstanding improvised explosive devices and smashing through barricades. Police departments around the country use similar vehicles for SWAT team deployments.
The ACLU released a study earlier this year reviewing 800 SWAT deployments among 20 local, state and federal police agencies from 2011 to 2012. It highlighted the aggressive nature of local police responses, which could be fueled by the war-like equipment handed down to the local authorities. NPR reported some of the study's stats:
— "In 2010, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was killed when, just after midnight, a SWAT team threw a flashbang grenade through the window into the living room where she was asleep. The flashbang burned her blanket and a member of the SWAT team burst into the house, firing a single shot, which killed her."
— Jose Guerena, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, whose wife heard a noise that turned out to be a SWAT team. Guerena "picked up his rifle, with the safety on, and went to investigate. A SWAT team fired 71 shots at Guerena, 22 of which entered his body and killed him."
Despite the recent negative attention heavy equipment like this has received from local and national groups, the San Diego Unified School District Police Department spokesman said they were looking for a armored vehicle for several months, and when the MRAP became available through the Defense Department, they snagged it.
“When we have an emergency at a school, we’ve got to get in and save kids,” Florentino said.
“Our idea is, ‘How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter?’" he said. “‘If there’s a fire [or] if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall?’ Stuff like that.”
The school district did not have to pay for the $733,000 taxpayer-funded piece of equipment, and plans to store $20,000 to $30,000 worth of medical supplies donated by partners in the medical industry in the vehicle, according to KNSD.
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