A heavily armored vehicle is now a part of the San Diego Unified School District Police Department’s arsenal, though administrators say it will only be used for rescues.
The hand-me-down Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle was granted to the department through a federal government program. The district did not have to pay for the $733,000, taxpayer-funded piece of equipment, similar to those used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to protect troops against IEDs. However, this one does not have any weapons.
The allocation came as some politicians on Capitol Hill questioned the use of military equipment by police departments Tuesday. They said the militarization program was created with good intentions, but needs to be reviewed after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We recognize the public concern over perceived ‘militarization of law enforcement,’ but nothing could be further from the truth for School Police,” said SDUSD Police Capt. Joseph Florentino in a release that was accompanied by an image showing what the vehicle may look like once it's in action.
He said the vehicle will be converted into the county’s only “Victim Rescue Vehicle.” The MRAP will be deployed in active shooter situations or large scale disasters.
According to Florentino, local fire and EMS personnel will train with the equipment to find ways to get paramedics into “warm/hot zones” during an emergency.
Officials developed the rescue tactics after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, when 13 people were murdered and 21 injured by two seniors on a suicide mission.
Florentino said officers waited outside for tactical teams while people were dying inside.
The MRAP plan is designed to prevent that. The vehicle should be able to pull down walls, ram through buildings and get to trapped victims.
"It'll be designed for us to get into any hostile situation and pull kids out," said Florentino. "We can fit about a full elementary class into the back of vehicle."
The armored vehicle will also be available to assist any local law enforcement or fire agency with nearby emergencies.
Officials plan to equip it with thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies so they can treat several hundred wounded if an emergency arises. They hope to have the MRAP up and running by next month.
When the revamp is complete, the MRAP will be marked with “rescue” and "police" signs along the side with large red crosses – a universal sign of medical aid.
"I think it makes sense," said parent Jericho Lopez. "You obviously want your kids safe and if the county is making the decision that this will keep them safe and not add additional dollars out of our pocket or take from education or resources in the school, then I have no problem with it."
Local agencies across the country are eligible to get surplus military equipment through the Defense Department's 1033 program -- also known as the Excess Property program. The SDUSD Police Department was one of 623 agencies to receive an MRAP.
Last month, President Barack Obama ordered a review of the federal program to determine if giving military armor, guns and vehicles to municipal law enforcement is appropriate, NBC News reports.