LA School PD Ditches 1033 Gear As Community Activists Score Rare Victory
June 2, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — After 18 months of sit-ins and protests, a coalition of Los Angeles high school students and grassroots organizers achieved the improbable- they compelled an American law enforcement institution to voluntarily relinquish its beloved cache of military weaponry. Even more shocking, they got them to agree to issue an apology, “for the policy that brought the weapons to Los Angeles in the first place.”
The L.A. School Police Department (the second-largest public school district in the United States) announced today that it would return all military grade weapons to the Department of Defense received under the controversial 1033 program, a 1997 federal program that furnishes state and local law enforcement agencies with surplus military weaponry and equipment at no cost.
More than $5 billion in surplus military equipment, including tens of thousands of M16/M14 rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, night vision gear, sniper scopes, mine detection gear, grenade launchers and more than 5,000 bayonets, have been distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide, including school police, since the implementation of this program some twenty years ago.
Many school districts have their own police departments. They can be substantial organizations and are often susceptible to the same trend of militarization we’ve seen in municipal departments. For example, the Compton Unified School District in California authorized its police officers to carry assault rifles in 2014. It is not alone, as schools across the country have also authorized their school police to carry military rifles and other weapons.
While the 1033 program has been known about for years, it drew widespread attention after the incendiary 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., where local police deployed armored vehicles, wore body armor and carried assault rifles while attempting to quell protests. Denizens of the LA school district became aware that the school district possessed an arsenal of militarized weaponry in September, 2014, which sparked concern in the community at large. But the school district and police department hemmed and hawed, agreeing to return grenade launchers but insisting they needed armored vehicles and rifles. “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 school district stated.
But after nearly two years of forceful pressure by the community, the Los Angeles School Police Department caved. Big time. Its not everyday that you read an apology letter from a Chief of Police, especially one that actually sounds as sincere as the one issued by Steven K. Zipperman, in an open letter addressed to the LA school district on May 18, 2016. It, reads, in pertinent part,
The LASPD recognizes the sensitive historical aspect of associating “military-like” equipment and military presence within a civilian setting. We recognize that this sensitive historical component may not have been considered when originally procuring these type of logistics within a civilian or K-12 public school setting. The LASPD regrets that not recognizing this aspect of your group’s philosophical stance may have strained our relationship with the Labor-Strategy Center and various members of the school community.