Yielding to residents' concerns, the San Diego Unified School District says it's returning the 18-ton MRAP, or mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, that its police department recently acquired from the Department of Defense's surplus equipment program.
San Diego officials had said the MRAP would be used only as a rescue vehicle in extreme circumstances — but that didn't satisfy the plan's critics, particularly in a summer marked by controversy over police using military-grade equipment to face off with demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo.
"Some members of our community are not comfortable with the district having this vehicle," Superintendent Cindy Marten said in explaining the decision. "If any part of our community is not comfortable with it, we cannot be comfortable with it."
As we reported last week, the six-wheel Caiman MRAP has an official value of around $733,000. The San Diego school district paid far less than that amount, needing only to cover the cost of transporting it to California from a storage facility in Texas. The MRAP drew controversy after its acquisition was reported by inewsource.org, a news partner of member station KPBS in San Diego.
"The district was forced into the national spotlight last week when news broke that its police department had acquired a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle," Joe Yerardi reports from KPBS. "The vehicle, designed to survive blasts from improvised explosive devices, was provided for free under the Department of Defense's Excess Property Program."
Yerardi adds, "Officials emphasized the MRAP was unarmed. They said it would be used as a rescue vehicle, loaded with medical supplies and even teddy bears."
Of the reversal, the head of the school district's police, Rueben Littlejohn, said the public's trust and perceptions were more valuable than the benefits the vehicle would have brought.
"Our officers understand the community's concern and are committed to continuing the mission of keeping our students and schools safe as we have done since the department's inception in 1984," he said.
The district says it's holding on to the vehicle until the Defense Department finds a new taker.