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To the Governor’s Desk: Montana Legislature Passes Bill to Limit Federal Militarization of Police

HELENA, Mont. (Apr. 9, 2015) – A bill that would drastically diminish the effect of federal surplus equipment programs that militarize local police was given final approval by the Montana House on Wednesday.

The vote was 79-20.

Introduced by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer (R-Superior), House Bill 330 (HB330) bans 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.

The bill passed by a 46-1 vote in the Senate last month and will now go to the Governor’s desk.

HB330 also stipulates that a law enforcement agency purchasing allowable military equipment must use state or local funds, prohibiting federal funding of such gear. It also requires agencies give public notice within 14 days of a request for allowable military equipment. Both of these provisions ensure any procurement of military equipment still allowed under law will happen in the public spotlight.

Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that, while not as comprehensive as the Montana bill, made his state the first to take a step towards stopping federal militarization of police.

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.”

HB330 goes beyond a prohibition on receipt of surplus equipment under the 1033 program by banning the purchase of such equipment with federal funds. It reads, in part: “If a law enforcement agency purchases property from a military equipment surplus program operated by the federal government, the law enforcement agency may only use state or local funds for the purchase. Funds obtained from the federal government may not be used to purchase property from a military equipment surplus program.”

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 purchase with federal funding, HB330 would effectively nullify the effect of such federal “grant” 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.

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 bring to Montana residents if Gov. Bullock signs the bill.

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