LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Los Angeles County Sheriff's SWAT team members standing on a armored car arrive to help Los Angeles Police Department officers during a massive manhunt for a suspect who attempted to kill two detectives on June 25, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The shooting happened in the early morning hours as the two detectives were ambushed and slightly injured outside the Los Angeles Police Department's Wilshire Station, prompting the closure of a 25-square-block area in the Mid-City section of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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The Bozeman Police Department has a military style Bearcat vehicle. Apparently the police applied for a grant and the $200,000 piece of serious hardware showed up last May. No one outside of law enforcement, including our illustrious city commission, was aware of this transaction. Now that the city commission is aware discussions are underway whether to keep it or send it packing.

The Changing Face of Law Enforcement

The events in Ferguson, Missouri have prompted many people to look a little closer at the evolution of equipment needed to enforce the law. We’ve come a long way from “To Protect and Serve.”

All sorts of TV shows and movies have been devoted to S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) Teams where high-powered weapons and equipment is used to subdue the bad guys. But seeing these military type vehicles in real life, as we did in Ferguson, gives some people pause about where cops end and military type tactics begin.

The Contradiction Is Clear

Cops have two purposes. To protect and serve. That’s their purpose. The police exist to maintain a safe living environment for the rest of us.

The military on the other hand also has two purposes; kill people and break things. The questions that citizens are asking is, “Are the police moving toward, and acting more like, military than police?” There are specific protections against government using military troops on American soil. Now for some, that line is getting a little gray when it comes to some police tactics like those used in Missouri.

Use It Or Lose It

There are valid vocal points on both sides. Would it be better to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it? Under what circumstances would we need it? What events would be taking place that it might be needed to restore order?

From reports I’ve seen it’s also been used in some search and rescue. So do we have a lot of that in Montana? I would say yes. But would the need offset the cost of operation and maintenance over it’s lifetime service?

Some Final Thoughts

There are some tough questions facing the city commission as they debate this issue. I’m sure public comment will play a big part in their decision. I personally don’t have an opinion because I don’t have much information about the use and need.

I would suppose that going to the effort of applying for the grant, and making their case in that grant, the police might have a valid reason to have this vehicle. If we don’t need it now, will we need it in the future? I guess only time and society will dictate the need or lack of it.

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