As Compton students head back to school Monday, residents are expressing concern about a school board policy passed in July that allows campus police who pass an internal selection process to buy semi-automatic AR-15 rifles and carry them in their patrol car trunks while on duty.
"This is our objective — save lives, bottom line," Compton Unified Police Chief William Wu told the board.
Wu argued officers are woefully underequipped in the event of a terrorist attack or mass shooting, in which shooters increasingly wear body armor, which is not penetrable with standard firearms. He cited a recent FBI study that found that roughly 5 percent of mass shooters have worn such armor. Wu said that while assault-style rifles are more deadly, they're also more accurate.
"Handguns you'd be lucky to hit accurately at 25 yards," Wu said. "With a rifle in the hands of a trained person, you can be go 50, 100 yards accurately."
But some community members are upset about the policy, questioning the utility of having such high-powered firearms in the hands of school police officers.
"The school police has been very notorious in the community and in reality has never had to shoot anyone before," said Francisco Orozco, a recent Dominguez High School graduate and founder of the Compton Democratic Club. "So this escalation of weapons we feel is very unnecessary."
Orozco said the police could better focus on day-to-day security concerns on campus, rather than arming themselves for a worst-case scenario. He also pointed to a lawsuit filed last year by parents in the district, alleging racial profiling by Compton school police officers — as well as recent allegations by students of excessive force — as evidence of a rift between the department and the community.
"The school police has not even earned the right to carry handguns," Orozco said.
Wu said he trusts his officers and said they do not engage in racial profiling. He also said his door is open to hear complaints from the community.
Joe Grubbs, president of the California Association of School Resource Officers said outfitting school police and local police who patrol campuses with rifles is becoming more common.
"This is not an assault rifle; it's a tool," Grubbs said. (The AR-15s in question would be semi-automatic, meaning they fire one shot per trigger pull, and not fully automatic, which would fire several shots with a single trigger pull.)
Grubbs said he's not familiar with the Compton Unified Police Department, but any potential trust issues with the community would not change his opinion that the rifles are a good idea.
"If there's an issue with Compton and how Unified School Police are engaging with the community, that should not affect their availability to tools that can save kids," Grubbs said.
Wu said the program will likely have select officers trained and carrying such guns in their cars in the next month.
This story has been modified to clarify the nature of the assault weapons in question.