LAUSD's police force return military rifles, but still have heavy armory

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The L.A. School Police Department last week sent back 61 rifles obtained through a controversial military equipment giveaway—but that doesn't mean the district's 400 school police officers aren't heavily armed. 

According to a firearms inventory obtained by KPCC through through a pubic records request, the LASPD arsenal includes pistols, rifles and shotguns designed for use by the military and law enforcement, including semi-automatic weapons. Those firearms were acquired by the department itself, the largest school police force in the country.

"The police have lots of avenues for heavy weaponry and armored personnel carriers, and the military's just one of them," said Peter Kraska, who studies police militarization at Eastern Kentucky University.

The 1033 program, which rose to national attention when people protesting police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri were confronted by police with military-style armory. Since then, President Barack Obama has banned some weapons from the program. 

LAUSD's move to pull out of the program follows an 17-month period in which, responding to public pressure, the department first defended and then returned an armored vehicle and three grenade launchers it had obtained through 1033. 

In a statement, the school district said "L.A. Unified recognizes the need to balance student safety and the interests of the public and our school communities. Therefore, the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) no longer possesses military-issued weapons." 

Rudy Perez of the Los Angeles School Police Association, the union that represents LASPD's officers, said he thought the decision was more political than tactical. "I think the Chief [LASPD Chief Steven K. Zipperman] was really trying to say, 'You know what? Let's play ball with the community if this is what they're thinking.' And that's very frustrating because there's political agendas and our children's safety comes in to play."

"We're just not out there running around like Rambos," Perez said.

The firearms listed in the current LASPD inventory, which is dated December 17, includes weapons whose manufacturers advertise their fitness for the battlefield and use by the U.S. military, including the Beretta 92FS pistol and several of the Colt-brand rifles.

None of those weapons were obtained through 1033, the district said. 

Reviewing the list, Peter Kraska said it was in line with many urban police forces.

Limiting the 1033 program, he said, will have little real impact on the militarization of police, because law enforcement agencies can acquire "very similar kinds of weaponry" on their own.

That's not all bad, he said. 

"As the mass shootings rack up it becomes harder and harder to argue that they shouldn't have this kind of weaponry. I think then the question becomes the misapplication of the weaponry and its misuse," Kraska said.

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