The Los Angeles Unified School District’s internal police department has returned the last of its military grade weapons provided through a controversial U.S. Department of Defense program, the district said in a letter to local activists.
After recently returning rifles provided by the Defense Department, the school police agency no longer possesses any weapons from the 1033 military surplus program, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The school police agency, which protects Los Angeles Unified’s 650,000 students, returned the first of its 1033 materials, three grenade launchers, in 2014 after civil rights advocates questioned the need for school police to possess such weapons. The school district previously defended its decision to keep the rest of its Defense Department supplies—61 automatic rifles that had been modified to be semiautomatic, which it called “essential life-saving items” and a mine-resistant armored vehicle it said police would only use “under extraordinary circumstances” with approval from the police chief and the superintendent.
But, in a recent letter, the department told activists it has returned all equipment and withdrawn from the program, the Times reports.
Activists around the country scrutinized local law enforcement agencies’ possession of weapons and equipment from the 1033 program after heavily armored police confronted protestors following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. And the use of such weapons by school police further fueled concerns about use of force by law enforcement in educational settings. As I wrote in 2014:
Concerns about overly harsh discipline are intensified by the presence of intimidating military equipment in and around schools, which "only exacerbate existing tensions," civil rights groups said in a September letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. "Arming school police with military-grade weapons and gear creates the potential to contribute to climates that students of color already experience as hostile, and contributes to the normalization of the criminalization of these youth, worsening educational outcomes, and producing no public safety benefits," says the letter, signed by the Washington-based NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and 22 other organizations.
Activists in Los Angeles have demanded further proof that Los Angeles school police no longer possess the weapons, the Times reports.
Photo: A Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, sits in front of police headquarters in Watertown, Conn. The Los Angeles school district police department is among those that had acquired such vehicles through a Pentagon surplus equipment program.—Steven Valenti/The Republican-American/AP-File
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.