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Bill Would Stop Montana Police From Using Military Surplus

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At least six Montana police departments, including Billings, Bozeman, and Missoula, are using armored vehicles similar to those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them are military surplus. 

Now the legislature is considering a bill that would ban local police from acquiring surplus “MRAPS” or “BEARCATS”, which have been criticized as a symptom of the militarization of police forces across the country. 

Republican Nick Schwaderer from Superior wrote the original bill to stop police from using military surplus combat gear.

"When we have specific things like weaponized drones, combat configured aircraft, grenade launchers and grenades, and tanks available, I think it’s up to the state to stand up and put some sideboards on it," Schwaderer said.

Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer (R) HD 14
Credit Montana Legislature
Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer (R) HD14

But along the way other legislators amended Schwaderer’s bill, adding "militarized armored vehicles" to the list of banned equipment. Unlike tanks or drones, armored vehicles carry no built-in military grade weapons. Still, critics charge that local police have no business driving the same vehicles the army used in Afghanistan, but Larry Epstein of the Montana Police Protective Association says they can play a vital role.

"In Billings where they had an incident with a person who was firing a rifle, they safely removed families from the incident… These vehicles are used for safety purposes. They don’t have machine guns on top and all of those things that you might see on the ads and on TV."

Schwaderer agrees that armored vehicles ought to be an exception to the ban.

"There are gonna be situations in metropolitan areas where a member of law enforcement is going to have to do a task where they’re going to need a piece of metal between them and a situation."

Schwaderer says he would accept an amendment to allow police to keep accepting military-surplus armored vehicles, but that’s not for him to decide at this stage. 

The bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will likely vote on it in the next few days.

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