A second state has joined a growing effort to curb the militarization of local police departments by the federal government.
WND reported last month New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that bans local law-enforcement agencies from obtaining nightscopes, military assault rifles, grenade launchers and 14-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles through a federal program without local oversight.
The issue drew national attention when law-enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri, outfitted like an invading army, were deployed against violent protesters outraged by the shooting death of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.
Now, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, Montana’s governor has signed into law a bill that “would heavily diminish the effect of federal programs that militarize local police.”
The bill, HB330, bans state or local law enforcement from receiving significant classes of military equipment from the Pentagon’s “1033 Program.”
It was approved 46-1 in the state Senate and 79-20 in the House. Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock signed it.
The Tenth Amendment Center said the new law “will prohibit 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.”
It also prevents law enforcement agencies in the state from buying 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,” the center reported.
State Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, a Republican, sponsored the plan and told the center: “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.”
WND reported there are some 17,000 police departments nationwide equipped with $4.2 billion worth of equipment ranging from Blackhawk helicopters and battering rams to explosives, body armor and night vision.
It’s all under the federal government’s “1033” program that supplies “surplus” military weapons to local officers, departments and agencies.
In New Jersey, S2364, by state Sen. Nia Gill, a Democrat, put local government officials directly between the federal government and local law enforcers. It was approved on votes of 36-0 and 70-0 in the legislative chambers.
The Tenth Amendment Center’s report at the time said it was the first state to directly address “the endless flow of military equipment to state and local police.”
The bill “wouldn’t put an end to the militarization of New Jersey law enforcement, but it does create a mechanism for local communities to stop the free-flowing tide of equipment.”
“Citizens now have the power and forum to pressure their elected officials at a city or county level to vote against such acquisitions or face the consequences come the next election. The new law also creates an environment of transparency that didn’t exist before,” the center said.
Center officials told WND more than half a dozen additional states also are considering similar or related language, including some that have significantly stronger language than New Jersey’s.
Tenth Amendment Center spokesman Michael Boldin told WND: “Our view is that the New Jersey law is significant because it represents the first salvo by states against an unfettered flow of military equipment from Washington, D.C., to state and local law enforcement. Other states are likely to take stronger steps forward in the near future. Good policing is about acting like peace officers, not a command and control military force. With more federal control over local police being a goal of some in the federal government, the New Jersey law giving final say over the receipt of such military equipment to local communities is an important victory.”
WND recently reported the American Civil Liberties Union was critical of the 1033 program.
Cheryl Chumley, author of “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality,” said the information is “insightful and informative.”
“The ACLU is dead wrong on a number of issues – but on this, on the red flag raised on militarized police, the group is dead on correct,” she said.
She said the Obama administration has had little interest until recently in examining the process of distributing war weapons to police departments.
“He’s likely been quiet because of statements he made in mid-2008 calling for a civilian police force akin to the size and power of the nation’s military – and now he sees the fruits of that desire are not so appetizing after all.”
WND reported at the time that a copy of Obama’s Colorado Springs speech posted online apparently was edited to exclude Obama’s specific references to the new force.
Are members of the American public in danger because of the program?
Some would say yes. The Review-Journal in Las Vegas has reported a lawsuit by members of a family claiming civil rights violations by police.
The report explains police thought a neighbor of Michael and Linda Mitchell, and their adult son Anthony, had barricaded himself and a child in a nearby home.
SWAT team members demanded that the Mitchells leave their home so police could use it for a tactical “advantage” during the crisis. They refused and “police later knocked down Anthony Mitchell’s door with a metal ram and entered his house without either a warrant or his permission,” their claim alleges.
Mitchell was arrested, the report said.
WND also has reported on a trend in which cities and counties are returning the war weapons.
“Whenever this kind of armament is brought into a community, it should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the citizenry,” John Whitehead, a constitutional attorney based in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement released to WND.
The report noted law enforcement agencies across the country have quietly returned more than 6,000 unwanted or unusable items to the Pentagon in the last 10 years, according to Mother Jones magazine.
The report noted that during the 1980s, SWAT raids numbered about 3,000 a year but now occur more than 80,000 times per year.
The results sometimes are horrendous. WND previously reported on an incident in rural Habersham County, Georgia, in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a home where officers believed a drug dealer was hiding out. The grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old boy and blew open his face. The toddler spent five weeks in the hospital following the May 28 incident which the local sheriff called “a mistake.”