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Senator Aims to End Military Equipment Program Used by School Police

By Evie Blad — June 01, 2020 1 min read
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A Democratic senator wants to end a federal program that transfers military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, including many school police departments.

Criticism of the program, known as 1033, resurged this weekend as protestors shared photos of police donning heavy tactical gear to respond to demonstrations over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Some of the concerns were surfaced in 2014, when police in Ferguson, Mo., sparked national conversations about the appropriate use of force in responding to public demonstrations.

On Monday, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz revived a proposal to eliminate the 1033 program altogether. Lawmakers from both parties had previously introduced similar proposals.

So what does that have to do with schools?

As Education Week reported in 2014:

A database from the Defense Department shows that tactical gear and weapons from the 1033 program have been provided to school police departments in at least 22 districts in eight states—California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. Surplus equipment provided to police in districts as large as the 654,000-student Los Angeles school system includes M-14 and M-16 rifles, extended magazines, automatic pistols, armored plating, tactical vests, SWAT gear, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles, and grenade launchers, which are used by police agencies to deploy tear gas and smoke in crowd-control situations. School-based police agencies that received equipment from the Defense Department said most of it would only be used in the event of a mass shooting. A spokesman for the Defense Department said some school agencies may have acquired equipment they would likely only use in cooperation with other law-enforcement agencies outside of the school environment."

After those acquisitions were made public, many school police agencies opted to return the equipment to the Department of Defense.

And in response to concerns about 1033, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that placed limits on the program, including restrictions on acquisitions by law enforcement agencies operated by K-12 school districts. (Many school police are employed by municipal agencies and work under cooperative agreements with school systems.)

In 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded that executive order.

“Those restrictions went too far,” then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when he announced the action. “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.”

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 previously acquired such vehicles through a Pentagon surplus equipment program.--Steven Valenti/The Republican-American/AP-File

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