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School police say they will return military-provided grenade launchers

In this Aug. 9 photo, a police tactical team moves in to disperse a group of protesters in Ferguson, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

(Update, 4:45 p.m.: This post was updated with comment from the University of Central Florida. All five grenade launchers transferred to schools and identified by a Post review of partial state data are in the process of being returned or disposed of.)

Officials at two colleges and one school district say their campus police are in the process of returning grenade launchers obtained through a Defense Department program critics describe as contributing to the militarization of local law enforcement.

A Washington Post review this week of data provided by more than 30 states — some of it obtained by MuckRock.com, a collaborative news site — found at least 120 schools, colleges and universities that have availed themselves of the so-called 1033 Program, which allows local law enforcement to request excess military equipment. The items transferred to law enforcement agencies affiliated with educational institutions include at least five grenade launchers—all of them in the process of being returned—hundreds of rifles and eight mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, machines designed to withstand the kind of roadside attacks seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials at the schools say they plan to dispose of the grenade launchers. Three were given to L.A. school police, one was given to Hinds campus police and another was transferred to the University of Central Florida police.

A spokeswoman with UCF said on Friday that school police initiated the process of returning the grenade launcher more than a year ago. It was modified to shoot tear gas and obtained around the time of the 1994 World Cup “for security and crowd-control purposes,” the school said in a statement earlier this week. It has been used only once, for a training exercise. The school will hold onto the nearly two dozen M16 rifles it has received.

Hinds College President Clyde Muse said in a Thursday statement that its grenade launcher and two M16 rifles “will be disposed of according to legal means” once the college receives approval from its board of trustees.

“The items were purchased in 1998 by a former campus chief of police, who retired in 2003,” the college said in its statement. “They remained on college inventory, and, to our knowledge have never been used for any purpose on the college campus.” The grenade launcher was intended for smoke or tear gas, but the college could never find canisters that fit, Larry Coleman, the former chief of police at Hinds Community College’s Raymond Campus, said in the statement.

The L.A. school police on Monday also said they plan to return three grenade launchers, but hold onto 61 M16s and an MRAP.

“We at the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) would not utilize this weapon within a school environment,” the district said in a statement. Because the grenade launchers are “not essential life-saving items,” the district says it will return them. The MRAP and M16s, however, were described as “life-saving.”

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