Thursday, October 18, 2018

Military Gear for School Police? Bill Introduced to Require Greater Oversight

By John Lindsay-Poland, American Friends Service Committee, California Healing Justice Program

Reprinted from the July-September 2018 issue of Draft NOtices, newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, (reprinted with permission)

As many readers of Draft NOtices will know, President Obama’s Executive Order 13688 established a requirement, later rescinded by President Trump, for jurisdictions that acquire military equipment through federal grants to have a civilian governing body review and approve these acquisitions. This requirement applied to elected sheriff departments as well as police departments of cities, towns, and even school districts.

Many local leaders are unaware of military equipment acquired from Pentagon surplus stocks or grants for purchases, much less informed of impacts and alternatives or their ability to exercise civilian oversight. And public safety budgets rarely detail the types of equipment that agencies intend to acquire using local funds. After a months-long public shaming campaign, students and community members forced Los Angeles Unified School District police to return a veritable arsenal of military-grade equipment: 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers, and a mine-resistant armor-protected vehicle (MRAP). A similar outcry forced the San Diego Unified School District to return an MRAP. That a school district would have been able to acquire such an arsenal demonstrates the need for more robust community oversight of military transfers to local police.

The surplus gear ranges from MRAPs and Humvees to high-caliber semi-automatic rifles that are increasingly deployed for ordinary policing. MRAPs are deployed in small California communities, such as Gilroy, Cotati, Dixon, Cloverdale, Escondido, Hercules, Banning, Tehachapi and Beverly Hills. California agencies have acquired more than 6,000 military rifles from the U.S. military. Brandishing this equipment in our communities generates a military relationship, whether individual officers wish it or not.

We have the military equipment, but not transparent guidelines about what it’s for and how it will be used -- and not used. Having the conversation upfront rather than later gives law enforcement guidelines they can rely on, and gives local governments oversight to protect taxpayer monies and to decide local standards for the communities they represent.

I recently gave testimony before the California Assembly in favor of AB 3131, a bill that would mandate reporting that allows lawmakers and community members to understand the role and impact of equipment in law enforcement operations. It would empower Californians, through our local elected governments, to set up some base line standards for what is and isn't appropriate in a place that is not at war, nor occupied by hostile forces. As of July 3, the bill had cleared several committee and assembly votes. Unfortunately, an amendment was added by the senate appropriations committee that will limit some of the details that would be made public when police agencies receive military equipment. Even so, the bill is still worth supporting. Please contact your elected representatives and ask them to support AB 3131.

To learn more about the bill, visit:

Information sources:

“L.A. Schools Have Given Up the Last of Their Defense Department-issued Rifles,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23, 2016. Available at:

“Tanks at the school gates? San Diego school police acquires its own MRAP,” The Guardian, Sept. 11, 2014. Available at:

“Trump and the GOP Want to Make It Even Easier for Police to Get Military Gear,” In These Times, Mar. 16, 2017. Available at:

John Lindsay-Poland works with American Friends Service Committee on the California Healing Justice Program.

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