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Civil rights group unsatisfied with LA school police’s demilitarization

Craig Clough | July 30, 2015

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Fight for the Soul of the CitiesSuperintendent Ramon Cortines of LA Unified confirmed in June that the district’s police force has ended its involvement in a federal program that delivered military-grade weapons to school districts. The decision on the so-called 1033 Program came on the heels of President Obama‘s announcement in May that he was severely restricting the parameters of the program.

The response from a local civil rights group, Fight for the Soul of Cities? Not good enough, show us the proof.

And members are planning to express their demands in a protest at 4 p.m. today outside LA Unified headquarters, prior to the school board’s 6 p.m. meeting. The group also wants a review of the history of the program.

As part of The Labor Community Strategy Center, the group says a simple letter from Cortines is not enough to satisfy it. The members want verification that the controversial program — which provides local forces with surplus military-grade weapons from the federal government — has ended.

It also wants a list of the school police force’s current stock of weapons, the destruction or return of some M-16s the department acquired through the program, a declaration from the school board the program has officially ended and any communication the district had with the federal government that could help verify that it cancelled its involvement.

“We still have deeper questions for the LAUSD Board: who made the decision to ask for these weapons? Who approved them? Why did they really truly need them?” the group said in a press release.

The debate about the arsenal of military weapons the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) possesses began at the beginning of last school year in the wake of a police response to protests in Ferguson, Mo. When the national media reported that the Ferguson police — whose response to the protests was criticized as overly aggressive — was outfitted with military gear provided by the 1033 Program, a national debate ensued over the militarization of local police.

The LA school police — the largest school police force in the nation and fifth-largest police force in California — was one of the agencies caught in the debate when it was revealed it possessed three grenade launchers, a mine-resistant vehicle and dozens of M-16s. In response to growing criticism of the program, LASPD Chief Steven Zipperman announced that the department was getting rid of the grenade launchers and vehicle it had obtained through the program, but was keeping the assault rifles.

Zipperman explained to the Los Angeles Times that the rifles were used for training and that they had been converted to civil-grade semiautomatic status. He also said they were on hand for police to respond to a Columbine-style attack on a school.

Not satisfied, Fight for the Soul of Cities staged a protest outside LAUSD headquarters in December and made some of the same demands it plans on making today. (Click here to see video of the protest.)

According to its latest press release, which describes the contents of a letter sent to Cortines, Fight for the Soul of the Cities wants the department to destroy or return the M-16s and encourage the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to make similar moves toward demilitarization. And it wants verification.

In his response, Cortines wrote, “It is not within our purview or scope of authority to recommend or encourage other municipal or county law enforcement agencies to reevaluate, alter or change their operational policies. We believe that the newly-published Presidential Executive Order Committee’s recommendations provide the necessary guidance and policy direction for all law enforcement agencies to follow.”

Regarding the M-16s, Cortines said all “weapons and equipment currently maintained in the inventory of the LASPD are weapons and equipment that are ‘standard’ civilian police force grade. The equipment currently maintained is essential life-saving items that will remain for life-saving purposes.”

Cortines also said the district is reviewing the group’s request for a full list of all the department’s weapons.


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