The Compton Branch of the NAACP and Mayor Aja Brown have asked the Compton Unified School District (CUSD) to “rescind” and “reconsider” a decision the board made during a July 8 meeting to allow selected officers on the school police force to carry high-powered AR15 rifles.
“We think that at a time when excessive use of force (is a problem) this decision sends the wrong message to the community, especially the community of Black and Brown people who have a problem with police brutality,” said Paulette Simpson-Gipson, president of the Compton NAACP.
Brown echoed the sentiment. “The controversy surrounding the deployment of high-powered assault weapons by CUSD police officers begs for more input from Compton community stakeholders.
Community residents are rightfully concerned about the potential use of assault weapons on their school campuses. We are undoubtedly living in an age of unthinkable violent acts against students, which we mourn as a nation. It is the duty of public servants to protect and serve, and it is critical for proper consideration to be made for decisions of serious proportion.”
Francisco Arozco, founder of the Compton Democratic Club, recent graduate of Dominguez High, as well as a former school board candidate also pointed to a lawsuit filed last year by Latino parents alleging racial profiling as another reason to rethink the action.
Simpson-Gibson also noted several pending accusations of excessive force against the Compton School Police, including one that happened in May.
“A young lady at Centennial High was pepper sprayed and dragged out of a police car by her hair. In that instance, after reviewing the video, it appears to be excessive force.”
In another incident at Compton High, a young man and his mother were arrested by the police and he was accused of hitting an officer. Simpson-Gibson said legal action is pending in both cases.
“We also have several videos of the police yelling at kids,” says the NAACP president, adding that these are just some of the reasons why the community is accusing the police of using excessive force.
In addition to concerns about the issue of excessive force, parents were not given an opportunity to weigh in on the policy before it was adopted, a concern mentioned by School Board Member Mae Thomas, who none-the-less joined her colleagues in approving the move.
Compton School Police Chief William Wu says the intent of adding the AR15 to officers’ arsenal is to simply to provide them with additional “tools” to keep students and staff safe.
“Our objective is quite simple—we want to save lives. The safety of Compton school students, faculty and staff is our prime concern.
“These rifles give us greater flexibility in dealing with a person with bad intent who comes onto any of our campuses. The officers will keep the rifles in the trunks of their cars, unless they are needed. It should also be pointed out that many other community and school law enforcement departments already have these weapons.
“The goal—as always—is ensuring safety—and as a department and as a school district we are committed to that achieving that goal.”
Under the measure (called the Urban Police Rifle Policy, UPR) approved by the Compton School board, select officers will purchase the semi-automatic weapons and keep them at their personal residences. All costs of purchasing the rifles, magazines, accessories, maintenance, cleaning, repairs and any fees associated with the purchase and registration will be covered by the officer.
While on duty, the regulations say the rifles will be kept inside a locked case in the officer’s police car. The case may also be secured via a cable lock to a hard mounting point in the vehicle trunk to deter theft, at the officer’s discretion.
Officers selected for the UPR program must have a minimum of three years with the department, be in good physical and mental condition, be recommended for the program by a current supervisor and successfully pass an oral interview with the UPR selection panel. They must also participate in regular, continuous department firearms qualification.
Officers selected will receive a minimum of 16 hours of introductory training in the use of the AR15, and thereafter will train and qualify with the UPR at least every three months.
While Compton residents are voicing their concerns about the advent of the AR15 onto their school campuses, their police department is just the latest in a growing list of school districts to take this step in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Those allowing such a policy include the San Antonio Independent School District, and the East Central Independent School District in Texas.
In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the San Diego Unified School District, the Fontana Unified School District, San Bernardino City Unified, Santa Ana Unified and the Baldwin Park Unified all deploy automatic weapons, according to news reports.
Additionally, according to Joe Grubbs, president of the School Resource Officer Association and a sergeant with the Bakersfield Police Department, the majority of school districts in the state actually utilize officers from their local law enforcement agency as security, and these individuals typically have access to what he calls patrol rifles like the AR15.
Grubbs said police departments began incorporating these “patrol rifles” into their arsenal after the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery shootout where LAPD officers armed predominantly with hand guns and 12-gauge shot guns encountered two robbers carrying assault weapons.
He also points out that like the hand gun, the patrol rifle is just another tool that officers can use to protect their constituents.
“I applaud Compton,” said Grubbs about the action, but acknowledges that there may be a somewhat different reactions and expectations within the community.