Recognizing that their schools probably don’t have a legitimate day-to-day use for an 18-ton $700,000 military-grade MRAP – or mine-resistant ambush protective vehicle – officials from the San Diego Unified School District have decided to return their heavily armored truck to the Pentagon.
The school district acquired the MRAP through the Defense Department’s now-controversial 1033 program, which has been scrutinized for outfitting local police departments like the one in Ferguson, Mo., with battlefield equipment intended for warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The congressionally authorized program has transferred more than $5 billion in surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies since it was created in the 1990s – all at very little cost to the agencies themselves. The San Diego Unified School District, for example, paid only $5,000 to get the 6-wheel vehicle—though it’s unclear what the cost will be to return it to DOD.
In the past few weeks, lawmakers have zeroed in on the program, questioning whether local police forces – some with only one or two full-time officers – should have access to tanks and BearCats. And with all of the heightened scrutiny, the local agencies themselves it seems are also asking those same questions.
San Diego Unified School District officials said they originally wanted the MRAP to be used as a rescue vehicle in emergency situations. They were planning to store $20,000 to $30,000 worth of donated medical supplies in the vehicle. But community concern over the use of the equipment after the militarized response in Ferguson, Mo., made the district change its tune. One local resident called it an “unnecessary” piece of military equipment that “sends the message that local officials are at war with students.”
“The value that this defensive tool would bring cannot exceed the value of retaining the public’s trust, confidence and perceptions of how we will protect our students,” Rueben Littlejohn, chief of the district’s School Police Department, said in statement.
Ursula Kroemer, a spokesperson for the San Diego Unified School District, said the district is still in the process of working with DOD to return the vehicle, though apparently there are tons of other return requests from other local agencies across the country. “They’re slammed with return requests,” Kroemer told The Fiscal Times on Friday.
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