L.A.’s top school-district cop says his department will return the grenade launchers they borrowed from the Pentagon, but will hold on to the M16 assault rifles and the military-grade armored vehicle…just in case.
“We at the Los Angeles School Police Department would not utilize [grenade launchers] within a school environment,” Police Chief Steve Zipperman, head of the Los Angeles School Police Department, told Fusion in a statement. The three grenade launchers “will be removed from our equipment inventory,” he said.
But the department will keep the other equipment —61 M16 assault rifles and an anti-mine military vehicle— that they’ve taken on loan from the Pentagon’s controversial 1033 program.The equipment, he said, will be used only “under extraordinary circumstances.”
“While we recognize, this armored vehicle is ‘military-grade,’ it is nevertheless a life-saving piece of equipment that the district would not otherwise have,” the chief said. “We will continue to keep it in our inventory as we evaluate our best options for ensuring we have the most appropriate life-saving rescue vehicle in our current inventory.”
The decision to return the grenade launchers comes after criticism and pressure from local community groups.
“Make no mistake, the equipment doled out to these school police departments are the same ‘weapons of war we have witnessed utilized by police in response to social activism in the black community in Ferguson,” read a statement by the student advocates group Labor Community Strategy Center.
Community leaders say they’re still concerned about the remaining equipment borrowed from the Pentagon, as well as other military weapons the district may have purchased with district funds.
“To try to justify that these weapons belong in a school is ethically and morally wrong,” Manuel Criollo, director of organizing at the Labor Community Strategy Center, told Fusion.
“We don’t see what military equipment has to do with the district’s task of educating our kids,” said Maria Brenes, director of the community organization InnerCity Struggle based in Boyle Heights.
Students share those concerns.
“They need to take everything back not just the three grenade launchers,” said Laura Aguilar, a 17-year-old senior at Manual Arts Senior High Schools in South Los Angeles. She said she regularly sees the assault rifles inside the police cars on campus.
“I just don’t understand how the government can send all this equipment to a school that really is in need of other resources,” Aguilar added.
Student advocates say they were already concerned about the level of policing in Los Angeles schools, where thousands of students face “truancy tickets,” which community groups say disportionately affect students of color. Arming cops with military equipment only adds another thing to worry about.
At least one police officer is assigned to every high school and middle school campus, a district spokesperson said.
“In this region there is no other district that has this large of a police presence in schools,” Criolo said. He said the racial profiling, discrimination and punitive policies resulting from heavy policing in schools deters the educational hopes of an overwhelmingly black and Latino student body.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has some 664,000 students enrolled, most of whom are black or Latino. Fewer than 9 percent of students are white.