Today, a law that will heavily diminish the impact of federal programs militarizing local police in Montana went into effect.
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. Gov. Steve Bullock signed the bill into law in April.
Schwaderer told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle he was a surprised Bullock signed the bill. He said he feared the governor would cave in to law enforcement lobbyists who opposed the legislation and veto the bill.
I’m incredibly pleased. In the latter part of the session you see so much partisanship so it’s heartening to see that both Democrats and Republicans could get behind it. It’s no lightweight bill. It substantially changes policy in a way that strengthens the civil liberties of Montanans.
The new law prohibits state or local law enforcement agencies from receiving armored drones, 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 aren’t the only way the federal government militarizes 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 March, 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,” Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey said. “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,” 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.”
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.
The Tenth Amendment Center, based in Los Angeles, seeks to limit federal power through action in the states and education.