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Police Militarization Coming to a School Near You

Throughout the nation’s schools security officers and police officers are becoming militarized with help from the Defense Department’s 1033 Program. It is the same program that provides local police departments with military equipment, and is currently under congressional review after the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

At least 26 school districts have received military grade equipment from the 1033 program, including Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, M16 rifles, military gear, and grenade launchers.

In Florida, Chief Rick Stelljes of Pinellas county school police confirmed that the county received 28 semi-automatic M16 rifles. Although they have never been used it is “something we need given the current situation we face in our nation. This is about preparing for the worst-case scenario.” In California, Police Chief Steve Zipperman states, the “MRAP will be used in very extraordinary circumstances involving a life-saving situation for an armed threat.”

After the horrific events of Columbine and Sandy Hook, several school police departments believed a surplus of military equipment would assist in protecting and ensuring the safety of students and faculty. However, does a school police department need dozens of M16 rifles, multiple grenade launchers, and an MRAP to stop an active shooter?  Probably not.

In fact, police militarization in schools creates more harm than good. As stated in the NAACP’s recent letter to the Department of Justice, “Adding the presence of military-grade weapons to school climates that have become increasingly hostile due to their over reliance on police to handle routine student discipline can only exacerbate existing tensions, intensifying overly punitive atmospheres that criminalize and stigmatize students of color.”

For instance, a federal complaint was filed against the Compton Unified School District in California on behalf of Latino students, “alleging school police engaged in racial profiling and excessive force.”  In 2011, a police officer wearing riot gear pepper sprayed at close range peaceful student protesters who were seated at UC Davis during an Occupy demonstration. Incidents similar to these happen too often in our schools and demonstrate the excessive force some students face. Add military equipment and who knows how far a situation can escalate.

The role of the police officer should not be to mimic a soldier but to protect, serve, and become part of the community. The presence of a militarized police only continues to isolate police officers from the students and the overall community surrounding them. It creates an environment based on fear and tension and there is no need for this in our schools.

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