A new school board policy in Compton, California, will permit some on-duty campus police officers to carry AR-15 rifles in the trunks of their patrol cars.
The controversial policy, which is expected to go into effect next month, has divided the community over whether or not police are becoming too militarized, especially in light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where heavily armed officers have clashed repeatedly with demonstrators since a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen on Aug. 9.
According to local data aggregator NeighborhoodScout, Compton ranks among the top 100 most dangerous cities in America. Those in favor of the new policy say arming school police with semi-automatic weapons could be crucial in preventing school shootings and that the AR-15 rifle is more accurate than other kinds of firearms. Only officers who first "pass an internal selection process" will be permitted to carry the weapon, reports Los Angeles public radio station KPPC.
"Handguns you'd be lucky to hit accurately at 25 yards," Compton Unified Police Chief William Wu told the news outlet. "With a rifle in the hands of a trained person, you can ... go 50, 100 yards accurately."
Others doubt the policy will benefit members of the predominantly Hispanic and African-American community.
"This has total disaster written all over it," wrote one commenter on LAist's story about the new policy. "Not just massive amounts of dead students due to 'friendly fire,' but financial disaster when the inevitable lawsuits roll in afterwards."
"Nothing good will come from this," a commenter on Los Angeles' ABC7 story said. "Police state continues without the people doing anything."
The AR-15 rifle, a weapon that has been described as being "at the heart of the gun control debate," was used by student Jared Padgett when he opened fire at his high school in Troutdale, Oregon in June, killing another student before turning the gun on himself. It was one of the weapons suspect James Holmes used in the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre in July 2012. It was also one of the weapons Adam Lanza used in the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school shooting in December 2012.
"The AR-15 is, essentially, a gun that was designed to inflict maximum casualties, death, and injury, in close to medium range. That's what it does," gun control advocate and former National Rifle Association member Tom Diaz told CNBC. "The real problem is that we allow that kind of firepower to come into a theater or into a first-grade class."
The Compton School Police Officers Association took to Facebook to defend the new policy and the preparation officers will undergo before arming themselves with AR-15s:
If we encounter an active mass murderer on campus with a rifle or body armor, our officers may not adequately be prepared to stop that suspect. School Police Officers will undergo a training course, followed by a shooting proficiency test on a firing range and a written exam. The rifles are designed for increased accuracy and use rifled ammunition than can pierce body armor. The safety of our Students, Staff, and Parents are very important to us.
The organization also noted that Compton school police aren't the only ones in California who are permitted to carry AR-15s. "Currently, the following School Districts authorize their Police Officers to deploy these weapons," the group wrote, "Los Angeles School PD, Baldwin Park School PD, Santa Ana School PD, Fontana School PD, San Bernandino School PD."