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Montana Bill to Help Block Federal Militarization of Police Signed into Law

HELENA, Mont. (Apr. 24, 2015) – A bill that would heavily diminish the effect of federal programs that militarize local police was signed into law yesterday.

Introduced by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer (R-Superior), House Bill 330 (HB330) bans state or local law enforcement from receiving significant classes of military equipment from the Pentagon’s “1033 Program.” It passed by a 46-1 vote in the state Senate and by a 79-20 vote in the state House. Today, Gov. Steve Bullock signed it into law.

The new law will prohibit state or local law enforcement agencies from receiving 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.

But, as The Guardian reported last fall, handouts of such equipment from the Pentagon are far from the only way that the federal government has been militarizing local police. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants used to purchase such equipment amount to three times the value of the equipment given away by the Pentagon.

HB330 closes this loophole by banning law enforcement agencies from purchasing such military equipment with federal grants. They could continue to purchase them, but would have to use state or local funds, and the agencies would have to give public notice within 14 days of a request for any such local purchase.

“This foundation sets a massive precedent in Montana and the country as to what kind of society we want to have,” Schwaderer said of his bill. “If you get to the point where you need a grenade launcher, we’ve got the National Guard.”

Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that, while not as comprehensive as the Montana bill, prohibits receipt of equipment from the 1033 program without an express authorization from the local governing body. This made his state the first to take a step towards stopping the federal militarization of police.

“By making it a local decision, the New Jersey law is a great first step, but the Montana law takes things to the next level,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “It closes loopholes and covers almost all the bases. The next step would be to expand the equipment banned, and we’re hopeful that good people in Montana will work on that next session.”

FEDERAL SURPLUS AND GRANT MONEY

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.”

Local agencies almost never have the funds needed to purchase this kind of equipment, and federal money is the only way they can afford it. By banning purchases with federal funding, HB330 would effectively nullify the effect of such federal “grant” programs.

COMMAND AND CONTROL

Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the Founders. 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.”

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 start to bring to Montana.

 

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