Montana House OKs bill to ban unmarked cars at traffic checks

| Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Montana House has approved a bill to prohibit law-enforcement officers from running routine traffic checks 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 told The Associated Press.

Representatives voted 73-27 on March 21 to prohibit use of unmarked cruisers when officers covertly monitor traffic and enforce traffic laws. The bill has been sent to the Senate for further 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.

The agency has about 13 of the vehicles, which are not painted with the patrol emblem or don’t have the traditional emergency lights arrays 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.

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