California school district arms school police with military style assault rifles
The Fontana Unified School District (FUSD) in Southern California has procured 14 high-powered semiautomatic rifles (Colt LE6940) for school officers to carry on campus.
At first I thought this was a hysterical reaction to last month’s massacre of 20 first graders and 6 teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, but I was wrong. It turns out these high caliber rifles, powerful enough to pierce military style body armor, were purchased in October and arrived last month, just one week prior to the Newtown massacre.
To be clear, this isn’t the city’s police department we’re talking about, it’s the school’s police department. The Fontana Herald News reports that “FUSD is one of the few districts in Southern California to have its own police department and enjoys a close relationship with the Fontana Police Department.”
The LE6940 rifle, designed for long range shooting accuracy, is basically a semiautomatic version of the M4 rifle, which “serves as the United States Armed Forces’ weapon of choice and the weapon of the 21st century warfighter” according to the Colt website.
Despite buying them before the Newtown massacre, school police chief, Billy Green, cited Sandy Hook as the proof that these weapons are necessary. “I think it just further solidified the need to give our officers the tools they need to respond to an active shooter on campus,” Green told the Associated Press. ”If someone were to come onto one of our school campuses and kill our students … and they were wearing body armor or were equipped with a rifle, our officers were not properly equipped to respond to the danger.”
Pretending for a moment that this argument isn’t flawed, I’m curious about the initial reasoning for this purchase, mostly because I can’t imagine what possessed them to arm school officers with armor piercing semiautomatic rifles. Based on the police chief’s remarks, there appears to have been no logic involved:
The rifles were purchased to address a “critical vulnerability,” although there has never been such an attack at any of the 45 Fontana campuses, the chief said. The 14 officers currently carry handguns, according to police officials.
And it’s not like these guns are cheap. The AP put the cost at $1,000 each. It seems to me that $14,000 could have been better spent enriching the learning environment for students. As it turns out, FUSD eliminated its counseling program in 2011 due to a budget shortfall. It’s strange that militarizing school police was prioritized over desperately needed student counseling services that would be in high demand if a school shooting were ever to take place. Ironically, it’s school counseling, not assault rifles, that stands a chance at prevent a disturbed student from acting out.
School Board member Sophia Green agrees that “instead of spending resources for more firepower, more effort should be going into helping disturbed students,” reports the Press-Telegram. ”If a child is having a breakdown, we should see the signs, pull them out of class and get them help,” she argued. Green also points out that the rifles may backfire by pushing potential shooters to “try to outgun” police with even more powerful weapons.
I suppose we can glean some comfort in knowing that officers won’t be carrying the assault weapons on them; they already have handguns for that. Instead, “The guns are stored in a fireproof safe at school police headquarters. Officers who have received 40 hours of training in their use can check them out and keep them in locked safes at high school and middle school police offices during school hours before returning them.”
Again, this makes no sense. If officers have to check them out only to lock them in their offices, how do we know they’ll make it to their office in time when an Adam Lanza wannabe embarks on a shooting rampage? I doubt school police spend all day in their offices. What if a disturbed student get their hands on one of these rifles? Just because they’re locked away in fireproof safes doesn’t mean they’re out of reach. After all, safe’s can be broken into.
The police chief told KABC that this won’t be an issue, saying, ”In the history of the Fontana Unified School Police Department, police services division, there has never been a weapon which has been compromised. Could it happen? Sure. But I would like to assure you that I’m taking every step to make sure that doesn’t happen.” I don’t know about you but that doesn’t ease my concerns.
And there’s no mention of the fact that these weapons will only be available to the officers on high schools and middle school campuses. I’m pretty sure Sandy Hook, which the police chief cited as the reason they need these weapons, happened at an elementary school.
Even if I put my feelings on guns aside, I can’t understand how throwing high powered semiautomatic rifles at the situation is anything more than a stupid and inefficient way to prevent or even just mitigate potential school shootings.
Luckily, there are a few sane Fontana officials questioning the wisdom of allowing such weapons in schools, especially because FUSD Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks approved the purchase without running it by the school board. School board member Leticia Garcia expressed her frustration to the Fontana Herald News:
“I am appalled that the superintendent would arbitrarily and unilaterally make a policy decision to arm Fontana School Police with high powered rifles. I do not think there is ever a need for this kind of arms on our middle and high schools campuses,” said Garcia.
She said the Board of Education needed to be “informed of the intent to turn our schools into militarized zones without approval and without properly vetting the issue with the community.”
Garcia added that as a parent and board member, she feels “outraged” and “frustrated” by the “knee jerk” decision made by Olsen-Binks to use public funds to pay for these weapons and ammunition.
But overall there seems to be very little pushback against the idea of arming school police. Almost everyone the AP interviewed was accepting of the false notion that militarizing school police was necessary, no matter how unsettling:
Lorraine Meeks, the attendance supervisor at Fontana High School, said she was conflicted about the merits of having police officers armed with semiautomatic rifles.
“It does look pretty intense,” she said. “But I know we have to keep up with what’s going on all around. Our officers are armed anyways and I feel as long as they have the training I feel really safe.”
Teresa Henriquez enrolled her 16-year-old son at the high school this week and said she was pleased to learn about the addition of semiautomatic rifles, but she said she worries about her son’s safety after watching shootings at other schools.
“It’s getting crazy everywhere,” Henriquez said. “They are just trying to protect, and if they think that this is the best way to protect then so be it.”
Henriquez’s son, James, said he did have concerns about the new policy.
“I think it’s scary for the cops to keep them at school because if a shooting was going on, it would take quite a while to get them,” he said. “And what if a student gets it? Then we have another student with a gun walking around.”
The weapons are an uncomfortable but necessary evil, said BarBara L. Chavez, the board’s vice president
“In my world, everything should be peaceful, we shouldn’t hate each other,” said the mother of five. “However, that’s not the world we’re living in. We’re living in a violent world, crazies are out there constantly. … We need to be prepared.”
When did our nation’s schools become war zones?