FONTANA, Calif. – The school police force in this Southern California city has acquired 14 high-powered semiautomatic rifles for officers to bring to campuses.
Fontana Unified School District police purchased 14 of the Colt LE6940 rifles last fall, and they were delivered the first week of December, a week before a gunman killed 26 students and educators at a Connecticut elementary school.
"I think it just further solidified the need to give our officers the tools they need to respond to an active shooter on campus," schools Police Chief Billy Green said Wednesday about the tragedy.
"If someone were to come onto one of our school campuses and kill our students ... and they were wearing body armor or were equipped with a rifle, our officers were not properly equipped to respond to the danger," Green said.
The rifles were purchased to address a "critical vulnerability," although there has never been such an attack at any of the 45 Fontana campuses, the chief said. The 14 officers currently carry handguns, according to police officials.
The weapons, which cost $1,000 each, are high-powered weapons that are accurate at longer range and can pierce body armor.
The guns are stored in a fireproof safe at school police headquarters. Officers who have received 40 hours of training in their use can check them out and keep them in locked safes at high school and middle school police offices during school hours before returning them, Green said.
"They're not walking around telling kids, `Hurry up and get to class' with a gun around their neck," the chief said.
The guns did not require approval from the school board but member Leticia Garcia said she will ask the board to discuss the issue. There should have been a public discussion before they were purchased, Garcia said.
"Those rifles have ricocheting ammunition ... they can go right through people," Garcia said. "We're talking about a war-zone rifle, and so are we going to militarize our public schools? We have to provide a safe haven for people to learn ... but this, to me, seems a little bit too much."
Reaction at schools in Fontana on Wednesday was mixed.
Lorraine Meeks, the attendance supervisor at Fontana High School, said she was conflicted about the merits of having police officers armed with semiautomatic rifles.
"It does look pretty intense," she said. "But I know we have to keep up with what's going on all around. Our officers are armed anyways and I feel as long as they have the training I feel really safe."
Teresa Henriquez enrolled her 16-year-old son at the high school this week and said she was pleased to learn about the addition of semiautomatic rifles, but she said she worries about her son's safety after watching shootings at other schools.
"It's getting crazy everywhere," Henriquez said. "They are just trying to protect, and if they think that this is the best way to protect then so be it."
Henriquez's son, James, said he did have concerns about the new policy.
"I think it's scary for the cops to keep them at school because if a shooting was going on, it would take quite a while to get them," he said. "And what if a student gets it? Then we have another student with a gun walking around."
The weapons are an uncomfortable but necessary evil, said BarBara L. Chavez, the board's vice president
"In my world, everything should be peaceful, we shouldn't hate each other," said the mother of five. "However, that's not the world we're living in. We're living in a violent world, crazies are out there constantly. ... We need to be prepared."
Fontana is a city of 200,000 about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.