A photo of the 2013 Caiman MRAP acquired by the San Diego Unified School District Police Department. The decals have been digitally rendered onto the vehicle. Courtesy: San Diego Unified School District.

San Diego Unified School District recently acquired a tank.

Well, it’s as big as a tank, and it’s in SDUSD’s transportation center in Kearny Mesa.

It’s actually a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP). The U.S. military has used these vehicles in their occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. They’re capable of withstanding improvised explosive devices and smashing through barricades. Police departments around the country use similar vehicles for SWAT team deployments.

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The school district got the MRAP for free as part of the Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program. The program, commonly referred to as the 1033 Program, sends unneeded military equipment like weapons and body armor to local police forces for no cost.

The program attracted national attention in the days following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Television audiences were shocked by scenes of local cops decked out in military equipment facing down peaceful protesters. Much of that equipment was provided through the 1033 Program.

Several local police departments have received equipment through the program. The single most expensive piece of that equipment by far is the school district’s MRAP.

Equipment provided to San Diego County law enforcement through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program

So, why does the San Diego Unified School District Police Department need an MRAP? Is it worried about an ISIS invasion?

Not so much, says Joe Florentino, a captain with the department.

The district intends to deploy the MRAP solely as a rescue vehicle.

“When we have an emergency at a school, we’ve got to get in and save kids,” Florentino said.

“Our idea is ‘How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter?’ said Florentino. “‘If there’s a fire [or] if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall?’ Stuff like that.”

The district had been looking for an armored vehicle to use in such situations. When the MRAP became available through the 1033 Program, the district grabbed it.

The vehicle’s worth about $730,000, but like all equipment in the 1033 program, it was free. San Diego Unified spent about $5,000 to ship it from storage in Texas to San Diego.

The district plans to store $20,000 to $30,000 worth of medical supplies donated by partners in the medical industry in the vehicle.

The MRAP arrived in April and students at Morse High School’s Auto Collision and Refinishing Program got to work painting it.

San Diego Unified hopes to unveil the vehicle at a press conference in October.

Florentino understands that — particularly following the scenes in Ferguson — the public is concerned about police militarization.

“I can totally see people thinking ‘Oh, my God. Are they going to be rolling armored vehicles into our schools and what the hell’s going on?’,” Florentino said.

“Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it for the real deal.”

Six other local agencies also received equipment through the program:

  • The San Diego Police Department received 77 M-16A1 assault rifles and an armored truck.
  • The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department received 10 M14 battle rifles.
  • The San Diego Unified Port District Harbor Police received one infrared illuminator.
  • The El Cajon Police Department received 10 M-16A1 assault rifles.
  • The Escondido Police Department received 25 M-16A1 assault rifles, four M14 battle rifles and an armored truck, among other equipment.
  • The National City Police Department received 17 M14 battle rifles.

Update (9/10/14): This story has been corrected to indicate that the vehicle is stored at SDUSD’s transportation center in Kearney Mesa.

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Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.

45 replies on “Why did San Diego Unified acquire an armored vehicle?”

  1. According to the file I saw of all the 1033 equipment that came to the county, there were a lot of extreme cold weather “drawers.” Very curious as to what agency thought those would be helpful. 🙂

  2. I’m sorry but I think the school districts or in fact our tax money could be better spent like on teachers salaries or in building repairs. Yes I know they may have gotten it for free but, they have already spent $5,000.00 to get it here and will undoubtedly spend thousands more in maintaining it annually and in fuel costs. If they really need a armored vehicle, buy a used Brinks armored car.

  3. I question their idea of using it as an evacuation vehicle since the Caiman version of the MRAP only has a 10-man crew capacity. Not all that useful for evacuating a classroom of 30+ kids…
    Maybe they just wanted a big toy, a big dangerous toy.

  4. This has to qualify as the most idiotic and yet dangerous waste of money of the week ! The $730,000 tank wasn’t free – taxpayers could have spent that on actual education of the kids instead of inventing reasons for its usefulness after the fact ! Used to extract kids in the case of a shooter ? This sounds like all too familiar theme heard in every school bond issue for the last ten years of claiming a necessity of “protecting” kids from intruders when in fact it was simply propaganda used by those seeking to profit from new construction and banking at taxpayer’s expense ! The need to extract kids from schools during an earthquake, fire, or shooting incident is best served by the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Issuing tanks and military weapons to local law enforcement – and now even schools – is patently absurd. Surely others have seen by now that attempting to make Americans live in a constant state of fear of something (no matter how unlikely- ISIS invading Texas, a school shooting that can only be deflected by a tank, etc.) has to do with controlling Americans and absolutely nothing to do with protecting them. What are we to expect next from the makers of these urban war machines – ads on T.V. urging voters to increase their taxes to buy more lest their school be overrun by “terrorists” ? Why doesn’t the federal government step up and really support education directly rather than wasting billions on war machinery that only benefits the 1% not the 99% of the citizenry ?

  5. The Red Cross looks like it was photoshopped on to create phony good feelings. I does not match the perspective of the sloped body panel.

  6. Very well spoken and agree fully. Unfortunately, we the tax payers had already paid for it. I believe there under an IDQ contract. So there piling up in storage yards. On another note, the Federal Department of Education already has their own SWAT team and has deployed it, I believe over over past due student loans.

  7. This seems very logical, the primary purpose of this vehicle was described as shuttling class rooms full of children away from at shooter. I believe the brinks truck may have cost around 100k as opposed to the 730k that was spent on this MRAP. Also having been inside of an MRAP i am guessing that the brinks truck would have more room inside for the children.

  8. Oh, we’ll keep medical supplies inside it to make it sound all friendy and stuff. Here’s what I want to know. Invariably, these things get misused by some freak who is just panting to run it out and play with it.

    So is there going to be additional insurance added to cover something like a dumbass running it through a classroom? Or crushing a house in search of a truant student?

  9. To anyone who feels that Xenubarb’s comments run close to hyperbole…please do an internet search on “Arapio tank”

  10. So how often do they need to do routine maintenance on this thing? Who is even trained to operate it? How often do you have to start it up to ensure it’s ready to use very quickly after an emergency is declared? It’s not free…we paid for the initial development and manufacture of this hulk. It leads me to a separate question, namely why do school districts need separate police departments, when we have a decent city one? Think how much could be saved if we eliminated the SD Unified police dept.

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  14. Good comments, Shane. The school police are misrepresenting this vehicle. School shootings do not happen over a period of hours, just minutes, and this behemoth would be stuck in traffic while a an emergency is over and done with. The whole plan reeks of chest-thumping hubris!

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  21. This is how scared body armor wearing cops are of t-shirt clad teenagers? Cowards. Absolute cowardice from the police state. And since they stop 5% of drugs, next to no murders etc, how do they even have time for truancy?

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  23. “… the Northern California city of Davis is making a different choice in a similar situation. As the New York Times reports, the liberal college town’s leaders told their police department to get rid of its own $700,000 “mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.”..”

    We can do that too, you know. Think about it. How would Sandy Hook or any of the school shootings have turned out different with a tank? Short of running it through a wall of the school, I don’t see any use for it. Like hammering a nail with a nuclear bomb.

    I noticed an article about high rates of truancy that was published right after the tank article the other day.
    Tank…truants…buncha derps who can’t wait to try out their new toy. Some genius is gonna put it all together and send this thing in with heavily armed SWAT to retrieve the little darlings.

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