School Cops Getting in on the Federal Weapons Bonanza

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
(from a cartoon by Tony Auth)

The militarization of local law enforcement agencies has received national focus since Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9 and demonstrators were confronted by police armed for a battlefield confrontation.

But it’s not just 8,000 local law enforcement agencies that have taken advantage of a U.S. Department of Defense program to equip their forces with sophisticated and powerful military equipment. At last count, that cache included 93,763 assault weapons, 180,718 magazines of ammunition, 44,900 night vision goggles, 533 aircraft, 432 armored mine-resistant vehicles and 435 other armored vehicles.

A Freedom of Information Act request by MuckRock has identified police departments at five California school districts that have gotten in on the giveaway. The Los Angeles School Police Department has 61 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and one mine-resistant vehicle.    

The Kern High School District Police opted in for 30 magazine pouches for M4 assault rifle ammunition; the Baldwin Park School Police Department picked up three assault rifles; San Diego Unified Schools Police have one mine resistant vehicle; and Oakland Unified School Police have one utility truck.

It took Shawn Musgrave at MuckRock 22 e-mail exchanges with California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) to obtain the spreadsheet containing state agencies that obtained weapons and gear through the Pentagon’s 1033 Program.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) told The Huffington Post that campus police have been receiving military stuff since 2001. The military started giving weapons and gear to local law enforcement in the 1970s as part of the war on drugs. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) pioneered the use of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), which intensified in the ‘90s before exploding after the attacks of 9/11.

Along with the military gear, local police also began using military tactics and adopted a military mentality about dealing with criminal elements. What used to be a clear distinction between soldiers fighting an enemy on a foreign battlefield and peace officers serving their communities has noticeably blurred.

That distinction is also being blurred in schools and on college campuses.

Documents from MuckRock also indicate more than 100 college police forces have received military surplus through the 1033 program, including the University of California, Berkeley. Musgrave tweeted last week that Berkeley cops received more than a dozen M16 rifles as of June.    

Berkeley police tried to get an 8-ton Lenco BearCat armored attack vehicle in 2012, which it promised to share with other local police, but backed off after Mayor Tom Bates and others protested. “Why would we want to militarize our police force?” Bates asked the San Francisco Chronicle back then.

More than 8,000 police agencies think they have a good answer to that question.

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

CA Releases 1033 Program Data (by Shawn Musgrave, MuckRock)

The Pentagon Is Giving Grenade Launchers to Campus Police (by Hannah K. Gold, Vice)

California School Cops Received Military Rifles, Grenade Launchers, Armored Vehicles (by Matt Ferner, Huffington Post)

No Place in Berkeley for Police Armored Car (by Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle)

The Militarization of Local Police: California Edition (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Leave a comment