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The 2013 Caiman MRAP acquired by the San Diego Unified School District Police Department. (Photo Courtesy of San Diego Unified School District)

Public School Police Receive Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle

Law enforcement for San Diego city schools have obtained a war-grade armored vehicle from the Department of Defense

Sarah Lazare

The police department for San Diego's public schools recently revealed that they have acquired a large armored combat vehicle from the U.S. military.

The $700,000 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP), which is designed to withstand blasts from improvised explosive devices and mines, was given to law enforcement for the Unified School District in April. The vehicle was transferred through the Department of Defense's controversial 1033 program, which authorizes the military to donate what it considers surplus military equipment to police and sheriff departments in the United States, including tanks and weapons used in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This and other federal programs that flood local law enforcement with weapons of war have fallen under increased scrutiny following the crackdown by heavily armed riot police and military service members on protesters in Ferguson, Missouri opposing the police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. Numerous other San Diego police agencies have received weapons from the military, although the MRAP stands out for its high dollar value.

The police department acknowledged that the MRAP is likely to be controversial.

"I can totally see people thinking ‘Oh, my God. Are they going to be rolling armored vehicles into our schools and what the hell’s going on?'" said Joe Florentino, a captain with the department, to local media. He claimed that the vehicle will be used during situations of emergency to keep kids safe.

But numerous organizations and institutions have warned that the militarization of U.S. police has dangerous consequences for civilians. An American Civil Liberties Union report released in June details needless deaths and terror at as a result of "unnecessarily and dangerously militarized" policing. "Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies," the report states.

The armored vehicle has already stirred concern in the Unified School District, which serves 132,000 students from preschool to 12th grade. Board Trustee Scott Barnett stated in a press release issued Thursday that the acquisition is a "misguided priority."

However, Barnett said it was not the excessive arming of the police he was worried about, but rather, what he considers to be the higher priority of replacing old police cruisers. He argued that the vehicle should be leased to nearby police agencies to raise money for upgraded vehicles. The "Ferguson controversy," said Barnett, is likely to make it "much more difficult for local police agencies to obtain these vehicles, so we may actually have a hot commodity."

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