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San Diego Unified School Board Not Notified About Military-Style Vehicle

Evening Edition

Aired 9/12/14 on KPBS News.

Whether you call it an MRAP, a tank or a rescue vehicle, San Diego Unified School District’s new military-style vehicle is causing controversy on the school board.

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MRAP Memo To Superintendent

MRAP Memo To Superintendent

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MRAP Application

MRAP Application

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Whether you call it an MRAP, a tank or a rescue vehicle, San Diego Unified School District’s new military-style vehicle is causing controversy on the school board.

Since KPBS media partner inewsource first reported on Tuesday that the district's Police Department had acquired the armored vehicle under a federal program to give away military surplus equipment to law enforcement agencies, the story has gone viral.

On Thursday, San Diego Unified trustee Scott Barnett said he and his fellow school board members should have been told about the plan to acquire a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle.

Barnett tried to be a little "punny" at the start of his new conference but quickly changed his tone and criticized San Diego Unified for taking the military-style vehicle.

“First of all, I want to ‘tank’ you all for coming. Oh no, did I say that,” Barnett joked, before shifting tone. “My view, even before Ferguson (Missouri), is that this is not something we should have in our fleet.”

Barnett said the board should have been consulted about the acquisition.

“If the district believes that we need additional capacity such as the armored vehicle, then that should be discussed by the school board,” he said.

District Police Chief Ruben Littlejohn defended his action.

“I don't report directly to the Board of Education, and I went through my chain of command as required,” Littlejohn said. “So the fact that you weren’t informed at that time was not something that I bothered myself with at the time. But I certainly see the importance of it.”

Now that San Diego Unified has the vehicle, it is turning it into a rescue vehicle by painting it white and outfitting it with medical supplies.

Barnett said he wants to use the MRAP to help buy new police cars.

“I’m saying let's take this armored vehicle — lease it to another law enforcement agency and use those funds to help fund what we use everyday,” Barnett said.

Barnett thinks the district could get up to $50,000 a year on the armored vehicle.

Littlejohn wants to keep it. “It’s my opinion that the vehicle should remain with the district," he said. "But I’m only one opinion, and I realize that this has become a bigger discussion.”

Barnett said he hopes the board will discuss the vehicle and his plan at the next board meeting on Sept. 24.

Through a spokeswoman, Superintendent Cindy Marten confirmed she had approved the acquisition and the approximately $5,000 it cost to move the vehicle from Texas to San Diego. She declined further comment.

Earlier in the day, Barnett had released a March 24 memo from Littlejohn to Marten and one of her deputies that showed he sought permission to acquire the armored vehicle.

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