Meet the newest vehicle in the arsenal of the San Diego Unified School District, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle
, more commonly known as an MRAP, or the US military's answer to the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) so favored by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, you might be asking, are the officers of the San Diego Unified School District Police (sidebar: is it normal nowadays for school districts to have police departments?) regularly subject to ambushes and/or IEDs? It seems unlikely.
Instead, the district says the vehicle will be used for search and rescue, according to KPBS, the local public broadcaster.
"Our idea is: How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there's an active shooter
? If there's a fire [or] if there's an earthquake, can we rip down a wall? Stuff like that," Captain Joe Florentino told KBPS
The MRAP, which is valued at $730,000, was acquired for a mere pittance – $5,000 in shipping fees – through the controversial Excess Property Program, or 1033 program. That's the same Department of Defense setup that has drawn fire following the Ferguson, MO protests. Now, critics are turning towards SDUSD, claiming the district's new toy represents a militarization of schools, a charge Chief Littlejohn refutes.
"It's not police militarizing schools
," he told KBPS. "There will be medical supplies in the vehicle. There will be teddy bears in the vehicle. There will be trauma kits in the vehicle in the event any student is injured, and our officers are trained to give first aid and CPR."
Littlejohn was also quick to point out to critics that the MRAP is not tank. While he is right (it's considered an armored personnel carrier), the 18-ton, six-wheel-drive, hulled vehicle has a lot more in common with its treaded compatriots than it does your average police cruiser.
What are your thoughts? Should a school police department maintain such a significant piece of hardware, or would the $5,000 (and District's claimed $500 per year of upkeep) be better spent elsewhere? At least one critic, a school board trustee, argues that the district's 10 squad cars could use some attention. Have your say on this story below.