Montana bill would prohibit unmarked cars from running traffic checks

| 3/4/2005

The Montana House has tentatively approved a measure to prohibit law-enforcement officers from running routine traffic checks while in unmarked cars.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Scott Mendenhall, R-Whitehall, said the practice amounts to an invasion of privacy.

“As policymakers, we have to decide do we want to adhere to our strong privacy statement in the constitution, or an increasing trend toward increasing police presence in our lives,” Mendenhall said.

Representatives voted 56-44 on Feb. 23 to prohibit use of unmarked cruisers when officers covertly monitor and enforce traffic laws. The bill must survive a final vote before heading to the Senate for consideration.

Mendenhall’s proposal, which excludes vehicles used by detectives and undercover agents, comes about a year after the Highway Patrol revived the use of unmarked cars for the first time in 30 years.

Lt. Col. Mike Tooley, deputy chief of the Montana Highway Patrol, told lawmakers the agency has about 13 of the vehicles, which are not painted with the patrol emblem and do not have the traditional emergency lights array on their roofs. The vehicles do have such lights within the vehicle and hidden behind the front grill.

The bill – HB368 – would cost Montana about $32,000 to repaint unmarked state patrol cars.