HELENA, Mont. (Feb. 26, 2015) – A bill that would place limits on the type of military equipment state and local law enforcement can obtain through federal surplus programs, requiring public notification when they request any type of allowable military surplus gear, passed the Montana House by a vote of 59-41 today.

Introduced by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer (R-Superior), House Bill 330 (HB330) bans state or local law enforcement agencies from obtaining drones that are armored, weaponized, or both; aircraft that are combat configured or combat coded; grenades or similar explosives and grenade launchers; silencers; and militarized armored vehicles from federal military surplus programs. The legislation also requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public within 60 days of requesting any allowable military gear from such a surplus program.

While the legislation only addresses obtaining federal surplus gear through channels like the 1033 program and does not bar law enforcement from purchasing such equipment, HB330 represents a big step forward in controlling the militarization of local police. By requiring law enforcement agencies to purchase equipment instead of obtaining it free from the feds, it forces them to go through the appropriations process, creating some accountability.

A former police chief claimed in debate this week that denying law enforcement access to armored vehicles could prove tragic.

“This is not a tool we should take away from our brothers and sisters. If you do, you must accept acceptable losses,” said State Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell).

Schwaderer pointed out that the initial bill prohibited tanks, and didn’t prohibit armored vehicles in general and wasn’t meant to exclude vehicles such as Bearcats or MRAPS. An amendment was passed to change the language to “militarized armored vehicles.”

“Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the Founders,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control.’”

In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”

Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters and other aircraft.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” which in 2013 gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”

By stripping state and local police of this military-grade gear and requiring them to report on their acquisition and use, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentives for partnerships.

“Sunshine is the salve of good government,” Schwaderer said.

HB330 now moves to the House floor for debate and vote in the coming days.

TAKE ACTION

In Montana: Support this bill by following all the steps at THIS LINK

For other states: Take action to push back against federal militarization of your police at this link.

 

 

 

Mike Maharrey