L.A., on the other hand, is the second largest school district in the country after New York City, and has its own police force, the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD). It’s the largest dedicated school police department in the nation, with a well-documented history of racially disparate policing. Though L.A. public schools’ student body is 10 percent white, 10 percent black and 72 percent Latino, a black student in an L.A. public school is four-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested or ticketed than a white student, according to a 2013 Strategy Center report. Black and Latino students experienced 93 percent of the arrests and tickets in the 2011-12 school year.
While L.A. schools have implemented recent reforms to address these disparities – like banning suspension for “willful defiance,” a subjective discipline infraction that disproportionately targeted African-American students – students and educators alike argue that military weapons should not be in the hands of a school police force with a history of racist over-policing.
What’s more, the new Obama administration rules do not clearly specify whether, or when, school districts across the country that have obtained weapons through the 1033 program will have to give them back. Manuel Criollo, director of organizing at the group Fight for the Soul of the Cities, says that in Los Angeles alone, at least 61 M-16 assault rifles remain in in the hands of the school district’s police department – a figure confirmed by LASPD Chief Steve Zipperman last September, and again in November after the district returned its MRAP.
Criollo’s organization has repeatedly demanded that LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines give up the military equipment; the group has also asked for a complete inventory of what remains. Cortines responded in a letter in January:
“Currently, the LASPD does NOT possess any military-donated vehicles, launchers or items recognizable as, and exclusively for military use. All current weapons and firearms deployed in the field by the LASPD are standard law-enforcement issued models that have not been received or procured through a military equipment donation.”