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San Diego Unified Got An Armored Vehicle Under Military Surplus Program

Credit: Courtesy of San Diego Unified School District

A photo of the 2013 Caiman MRAP acquired by the San Diego Unified School District Police Department. The decals have been digitally rendered onto the vehicle.

San Diego Unified School District recently acquired a tank.

Well, it’s as big as a tank, and it’s in the garage of Morse High School.

It’s actually a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, more commonly called an MRAP. The U.S. military has used these vehicles in Afghanistan and Iraq wars. They’re capable of withstanding improvised explosive devices and smashing through barricades. Police departments around the country use similar vehicles for SWAT team deployments.

The school district got the MRAP for free as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program. The program, commonly referred to as the 1033 Program, sends unneeded military equipment like weapons and body armor to local police forces for no cost.

The program attracted national attention in the days following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Television audiences were shocked by scenes of local cops decked out in military equipment facing down peaceful protesters. Much of that equipment was provided through the 1033 Program.

Several local police departments have received equipment through the program. The single most expensive piece of that equipment by far is the school district’s MRAP.

Related: Database of equipment provided to San Diego County law enforcement through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program

So, why does the San Diego Unified School District Police Department need an MRAP? Is it worried about an ISIS invasion?

Not so much, says Joe Florentino, a captain with the department.

The district intends to deploy the MRAP solely as a rescue vehicle.

“When we have an emergency at a school, we’ve got to get in and save kids,” Florentino told inewsource, a media partner of KPBS.

“Our idea is: How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter? If there’s a fire [or] if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall? Stuff like that,” he said.

The district had been looking for an armored vehicle to use in such situations. When the MRAP became available through the 1033 Program, the district grabbed it.

The vehicle’s worth about $730,000, but like all equipment in the 1033 program it was free. San Diego Unified spent about $5,000 to ship it from storage in Texas to San Diego.

The district plans to store $20,000 to $30,000 worth of medical supplies donated by partners in the medical industry in the vehicle.

The MRAP arrived in April, and students at Morse High School’s Auto Collision and Refinishing Program got to work painting it.

San Diego Unified hopes to unveil the vehicle at a news conference in October.

Florentino understands that — particularly following the scenes in Ferguson — the public is concerned about police militarization.

“I can totally see people thinking, ‘Oh, my God. Are they going to be rolling armored vehicles into our schools, and what the hell’s going on?’” Florentino said. “Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it for the real deal.”

Six other local agencies also received equipment through the program:

  • The San Diego Police Department received 77 M-16A1 assault rifles and an armored truck.
  • The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department received 10 M14 battle rifles.
  • The San Diego Unified Port District Harbor Police received one infrared illuminator.
  • The El Cajon Police Department received 10 M-16A1 assault rifles.
  • The Escondido Police Department received 25 M-16A1 assault rifles, four M14 battle rifles and an armored truck, among other equipment.
  • The National City Police Department received 17 M14 battle rifles.

inewsource is a KPBS media partner.

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