HELENA, Mont. (Mar. 16, 2015) – A bill that would place strict limits on the type of military equipment state and local law enforcement can obtain through federal surplus programs passed a Montana state senate committee 11-1 last week. The vote was 11-1.
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 14 days of requesting any allowable military gear from such a surplus program.
After amendments were passed strengthening the bill, HB330 passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Mar. 12 by an 11-1 margin. It is now set to be heard in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee on Mar. 17. The bill was previously approved by the state house by a 59-41 margin last month.
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 rejecting the federal 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 while debating over the bill 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).
Some supporters considered this little more than “fear-mongering” to scare legislators into allowing the status quo. That is, an unlimited amount and type of military equipment flowing to local police, with no accountability.
“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.
That is exactly what HB330 will bring to Montana residents if it can pass through the legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Bullock.
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.