Predator drone

The Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flies above the USS Carl Vinson in 1995.

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Gov. Steve Bullock surprised a Republican lawmaker Thursday by signing a bill that limits what state and local police forces can take from the Pentagon’s warehouses of surplus military equipment.

Though it passed with bipartisan support, Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, R-Superior, was shocked when the Chronicle contacted him with the news that Bullock had signed HB 330. He had worried Bullock would appease law enforcement groups who opposed the measure by issuing a veto.

The new law bans receiving weaponized drones, combat aircraft, grenades, grenade launchers, silencers and militarized armored vehicles from the Pentagon’s 1033 program. It also requires agencies to publish their requests within 14 days.

“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,” Schwaderer said Thursday. “It’s no lightweight bill. It substantially changes policy in a way that strengthens the civil liberties of Montanans.”

The 1033 program was authorized by Congress in the early ‘90s as part of the war on drugs. Since then, over $4 billion dollars worth of assault rifles, night vision equipment, aircraft, armored vehicles and clothing have been acquired by state and local police.

The August 2014 clashes between protesters and heavily equipped police in Ferguson, Missouri, led to a national conversation about the militarization of police forces.

Soon after, Bozeman’s mayor and residents were surprised to learn that local police had acquired an armored vehicle.

Legislation aimed at limiting the program was introduced in nine states, both red and blue, and in Congress by Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. Congress has acted with disinterest.

“Our founders opposed using a standing army to patrol our streets,” Johnson said last month. “In fact, James Madison called this ‘one of the greatest mischiefs that can possibly happen.’ Under the 1033 program, however, America’s streets are becoming increasingly militarized.”

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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