Although many libertarians and some conservatives have been warning about it for years, it wasn’t until after the riots in Ferguson, Mo., last year that the militarization of local law enforcement became a national issue.
Essentially, local police and sheriff departments have been obtaining military grade surplus equipment for dirt cheap through the Pentagon’s 1033 program and a Department of Homeland Security grant program.
These programs and federal grants have been used to obtain automatic weapons, armored vehicles, body armor, drones, grenades and grenade launchers, helicopters, and even small planes for police departments, leading many to wonder if the mission of law enforcement has changed from “protect and serve” to “command and control.”
But now the state of Montana has taken a huge step to reverse the trend of militarizing local police forces, with a new law passed overwhelmingly by its legislature.
This new law prohibits both state and local law enforcement agencies from obtaining military equipment, or the funds to purchase them, from the federal government. It would still allow these agencies to purchase such equipment on their own, using state or local funds.
According to the Tenth Amendment Center, Republican Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, sponsor of the bill, said, “This foundation sets a massive precedent in Montana and the country as to what kind of society we want to have. If you get to the point where you need a grenade launcher, we’ve got the National Guard.”
New Jersey, of all places, recently passed a somewhat similar law, which doesn’t necessarily prohibit local and state law enforcement from participating in the federal militarization programs, but mandates that they obtain permission from local governing bodies first.
“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.”
This is excellent news for those who are worried about the increasing militarization of the police, especially in light of efforts by the Obama administration to federalize local law enforcement, bringing them under the federal umbrella and removing them from local control and accountability.
Hopefully, other states will follow the lead of Montana and New Jersey (did I really just write that?) and pass similar legislation slowing down the militarization of local police forces with equipment more suited for occupying enemy territory than serving and protecting a community.
Please share this on Facebook and Twitter if you have concerns over the rate of militarization of local police forces and think something must be done to reverse this trend.