The nation watched closely as Ferguson, Mo., protestors were violently met with police forces wearing and armed with military equipment. Yesterday Newsweek reported that a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing Tuesday addressing the militarization of local police. However, no one discussed why San Diego Unified School District now has military-like gear.
Yesterday Joe Yerardi, from inewsource.org, reported that a San Diego High School has “acquired an armored vehicle.” Morse High School, just west of National City, received a “mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, (MRAP).” These vehicles are typically used for SWAT, not high schools. The vehicle was given to the school for free through program 1033, the same program that is under fire from Senators. In a nutshell, the program allows local police departments, at no cost, obtain unused military items. As the nation watched Ferguson police use military gear to hold back protesters, many questioned where police got war equipment, and how are they authorized to use it on civilians acting under the First Amendment? According to inewsource.org, Morse High School’s MRAP is the most expensive piece of combat defense equipment granted under the program, $730,000, unlike police departments the school paid $5,000 for shipping. Currently the federal government provides local police departments grant money to buy military items that are no longer in use.
Since Senators are currently evaluating this program, will they need to include oversight for high schools being equipped with military weapons?
It appears program 1033, before Sept. 11, 2001, was developed for law agencies to use retired military gear for the “war on drugs.” Newsweek reported that local police agencies “demanded” the equipment for their idea to “fight terrorism,” since the terrorist attacks.
Although personnel from the Department of Homeland Security were grilled about police using military equipment, it appears they never answered the question about using military equipment on American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. In fact, the answers went 360, and the department highlighted natural disaster rescue efforts, and the Boston Marathon bombers.
Besides being grilled on local police buying military gear, the discussion turned to question the costs. Senator Claire McCaskill, vigorously questioned Alan F. Estevez, principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; if we are not using this equipment why is it being purchased? Estevez answer was less than convincing to the Senator. “I guarantee you the stuff you’re giving away you’re continuing to buy,” Estevez said.
McCaskill said if the findings show the Defense Department is giving away equipment and turning around the next year to buy the same items, “it’s going to drive me crazy.”
Senator McCaskill told Estevez, her findings showed that small town police departments, some which have less than two full-time officers were given more than 12 military assault weapons, and more than one MRAP. Senator McCaskill pointed out that the program clearly lacks oversight. Wonder if she knows that the same program allows local high schools to obtain MRAPs?
Apparently a San Diego high school will also stockpile medical supplies worth more than $25,000 in the military vehicle, which were donated by a medical contractor. The military issued vehicle was delivered in April. The purpose of the MRAP is for rescue missions only, said, Captain of the San Diego Unified School District, Joe Florentino. “Can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter, a fire, if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall?” If police officers are not formally trained to safely operate military equipment, how in the world will high school districts be?