The arms race between police and citizens has reached another milestone, “The Atlantic” reported yesterday. In Compton, California, the police department has requested, and the Compton school board has approved, the use of AR-15 rifles by campus security officers. Compton Unified Police Chief William Wu defended the weapons upgrade by stating that police would be “woefully underequipped” if school grounds under their protection became the target of a terrorist attack or a mass shooting. Officer training in the use of AR-15s will commence with an eye on having these weapons in the field within the next month.
This development has raised concerns among Compton residents, especially among parents and students. Francisco Orozco, founder of the Compton Democratic Club and former student at Manuel Dominguez High School, raised the question to South California Public Radio whether or not such measures are advisable, much less necessary. He suggested that Compton police would better serve their community by focusing on practical safety issues rather than outfitting for the “worst-case scenario.”
All of this comes on the heels of the growing national debate over the militarization of American police forces, and the alarming consequences of this trend evidenced by the events in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. The safety of law enforcement personnel has been listed as the primary impetus behind the increased use of higher-grade and more powerful weapons and equipment by police. While officer safety is certainly a vital issue, justifications behind the use of the AR-15 on Compton campuses, justifications that include the rifle’s superior range and ability to pierce bullet-resistant armor, evokes the adversarial attitude implicit in such escalation in the ways of arming public servants.
Whether the measure in Compton reflects conditions specifically relevant to the school district, the question, at least to Compton residents, is one that asks if the use of AR-15s is prudent or necessary. Orozco noted that, “The school police has not even earned the right to carry handguns.” That they are now sanctioned to carry high-powered rifles seems to disregard such assessments by citizens.
Repeated calls to the Compton Safety and Police office concerning funding and safety guidelines with respect to the implementation of AR-15s were re-directed to the mailbox of Anthony Miller, whose mailbox was full.