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San Diego School District to Return Armored Vehicle to Defense Department

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After questions from the public and criticism from civil rights groups, a second school district has announced plans to return surplus military equipment acquired through the Department of Defense's 1033 program.

The San Diego school system will return a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, that it received in April and planned to use "as a rescue vehicle to be used in the event of an active shooter situation on a campus or other emergency," Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a news release.

"Some members of our community are not comfortable with the district having this vehicle," Marten said in the release. "If any part of our community is not comfortable with it, we cannot be comfortable with it."

San Diego's decision follows an announcement by the Los Angeles Unified School District's police department that it will return three grenade launchers it received through the 1033 program.

The Defense Department directs surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program, which drew criticism for "militarizing police" after police responded to protests in Ferguson, Mo. last month in an armored vehicle and protective body gear. President Obama has ordered a review of the program.

As I wrote Monday, civil rights groups have raised concerns about school systems receiving supplies from the 1033 program, saying tactical gear, military style equipment, and body armor would only increase concerns about how school police interact with students and how the presence of law enforcement affects school climate issues. Using media accounts, those groups identified at least 22 districts that have received surplus supplies through the program. That equipment includes armored vehicles, body armor, and semi-automatic rifles.

The San Diego district said it has been instructed to retain the vehicle until a new location for transfer has been identified.

"The value that this defensive tool would bring cannot exceed the value of retaining the public's trust, confidence and perceptions of how we will protect our students," Rueben Littlejohn, chief of the district's police department, said in the news release.

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