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Fontana school district police now armed with high-powered rifles

January 23, 2013 |  8:29 am

The Fontana Unified School District’s 14 police officers were recently armed with semi-automatic rifles,  drawing sharp criticism from some in the community who oppose having such weapons on campuses.

The Colt 6940 model rifles, which cost about $1,000 each, will be kept in on-campus safes and only be used in "extreme emergency cases" like the Newtown, Conn., massacre, said Supt. Cali Olsen-Binks.

The district purchased the rifles in October and they arrived in December, before the tragedy in Newtown, where a gunman killed 26 people — 20 of them children — at an elementary school. The shooting sparked a debate on whether armed school guards could prevent these types of tragedies.

The rifles have been on campuses since students returned from winter break in January, said Fontana Unified School District Police Chief Billy Green.

Though the purchase was not spurred by any one event, the rifles are designed to increase shooting accuracy from a distance and provides officers with effective stopping power against assailants wearing body armor. Those capabilities are necessary for officers to stop a well-armed gunman, Green contends.

“If you know of a better way to stop someone on campus that’s killing children or staff members with a rifle I’d like to hear it,” he said. “I don’t think its best to send my people in to stop them with just handguns.”

“I hope we would never have to use it,” he said. “But if we do, I’d like them to be prepared.”

Though the school police department is funded by the school district, the purchase -- altogether about $14,000 -- fell beneath the threshold that would require school board approval. School board members were not informed until after the purchase was completed.

A school board member, Leticia Garcia, said the police chief and superintendent should have brought the purchase to the board anyway and made the matter available for a public hearing. The move is a policy decision and should have been decided by all stakeholders -- especially in light of the ongoing debate of the issue around the country, she said.

"It was not vetted by the board and not vetted by the community," Garcia said.

Cali Olsen-Binks said she supported having the guns in schools and said it was a necessary evil to keep students and staff safe.

"It balances providing that community-oriented openness at schools without compromising any kind of security for students and employees," she said.

While stopping short of saying the matter should have been put before the board first, she said that doing so might have helped ease concerns.

“The chief cautioned laying out the safety plan to everyone,” she said. “But having an opportunity for more community discussion is always a good thing.”

The rifles are kept either in the trunk of the police officer’s vehicle or in a safe on campus that only the officer has access to.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

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