RENO — The outgoing superintendent of the Washoe County School District says he doesn’t believe school police should be armed with military-style assault weapons.
Pedro Martinez said one of the challenges facing his successor will be to “change the culture” of the school police force.
“I don’t think we should have M-16s in the police department,” said Martinez, the former deputy superintendent of Clark County schools in Las Vegas. He is leaving his job in Reno before the end of the year after a falling-out that led to the school board buying out his contract.
The district has obtained eight of the semi-automatic assault rifles through a surplus Pentagon program, the only school district in Nevada to have them.
“Our police officers should be role models for the students,” Martinez said. “The focus should be on working in collaboration with the Reno and Sparks police departments, not competing with them for firepower and training.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and others have criticized the Pentagon program and what they say is the militarization of local police departments.
“I don’t see why a school district police officer would need a military assault rifle for any reason,” said Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. “It sends the wrong message to act in a militaristic way when policing is about serving and protecting communities, not assaulting them.”
Washoe school district police most recently deployed the rifles last fall in response to a deadly shooting at Sparks Middle School.
Interim School Police Chief Jason Trevino said they are a specialized weapon utilized only when necessary.
“Our officers don’t carry them walking down school hallways as a normal routine,” he told The Associated Press last month. “Unfortunately, society is becoming increasingly more violent, and criminals are more resistant to standard police practices.”
Martinez filed a wrongful-termination suit after he said he was fired in July a dispute over his resume regarding his background as a certified public accountant. The board voted Sept. 24 to settle the suit by paying his $80,000 in attorney fees and buying out the remaining 15 months left on his contract to the tune of about $500,000 for salary and benefits.
While Martinez said the board has not given him a date for his final day on the job. The settlement calls for him to leave sometime between Nov. 4 and Dec. 22.
Martinez told the newspaper he bears no resentment toward the board.
“First of all, I was exonerated,” he said. “I do appreciate the part of the settlement that says it’s best for us to part ways. For me, it’s sad. I would have liked to have continued to work here, but to undo what happened July 22, there’s just no way to do that.”