Despite the debate over the excessive militarization of U.S. police forces that was sparked after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, last month, the Defense Department continues to dole out military vehicles designed for war zones, sometimes to entities that appear to have little need for them.
The latest recipient of a such a vehicle — a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehice, or an MRAP — is the San Diego Unified School District, NBC San Diego reports.
The district obtained its $733,000 war machine through the Defense Department’s 1033 program which distributes excess military gear and equipment to law-enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Recipients generally pay only for transportation and maintenance costs.
The 1033 program began receiving heavy criticism earlier this year as news reports started calling attention to it and pointing out that small towns with relatively low crime rates were scoring the vehicles. The argument against the program has generally been that instills a military mindset in local police forces.
That mindset was on display during last month’s protests in Ferguson, which began after a police officer there shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. During the protests, local police forces rolled out their mine-resistant vehicles and other high-caliber weaponry to stave off a mass riot.
Most recipients of the gear have defended the program, citing potential threats.
“We recognize the public concern over perceived ‘militarization of law enforcement,’ but nothing could be further from the truth for School Police,” San Diego Unified School District police Capt. Joseph Florentino said in a press release, according to NBC San Diego.
“It’ll be designed for us to get into any hostile situation and pull kids out,” he continued. “We can fit about a full elementary class into the back of [the] vehicle.”
A number of politicians have called for a review of the 1033 program and of police militarization in general.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn criticized the grant program, saying “we’ve stepped across the line and actually have created some problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”
Brian Kamoie, a Department of Homeland Security grant administrator, cited last year’s Boston marathon bombing as a prime example of an MRAP’s usefulness.
“Grant funds provided to Massachusetts and to Boston saved lives and restored and ensured public safety in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing,” Kamoie said.