The Missoula Police Department got the nod Wednesday to have the mayor sign off on a Homeland Security grant proposal – one that names the Rainbow Family as an "extremist" hazard in western Montana.
The $254,930 grant will purchase a mobile communications vehicle the Missoula police will share with other law enforcement and emergency responders in seven western Montana counties, according to Assistant Police Chief Scott Hoffman. The city's contribution is $29,200.
According to police, the Montana Department of Military Affairs' Disaster and Emergency Services division already approved the city's application.
On Wednesday, the Missoula City Council's Public Safety and Health Committee voted to recommend the full council sign off on the project and related spending.
"It's a mobile command unit," Hoffman said before the meeting. "It's just like a motor home with communications and computers and radios and things like that. I don't know what the hazards of the Rainbow people are."
The draft letter from Mayor John Engen is addressed to the state Department of Military Affairs in Helena, and the proposal names natural, technological and man-made hazards. Among other specifics, the list cites avalanches, train derailments and extremist groups, naming the Hells Angels and Rainbow Family in particular.
The Rainbow Family of Living Light describes itself as a nonviolent group spreading the message of peace and love. It gathered in Montana in 2000 and 2013.
The U.S. Forest Service has said the 2013 camp west of Dillon was rowdy and required a strong law enforcement presence, but some participants said the number of officers was excessive.
In a phone call, Missoula Police Lt. Scott Brodie said the Rainbow Family was named in the grant because of the problems it has caused in the past.
"When they have their gatherings, they historically have created a mess that needs to be cleaned up," Brodie said.
To that end, he said the communications unit would help if multiple jurisdictions were headed to the cleanup effort. A Rainbow gathering could involve the Forest Service, police, deputies, fire departments and other agencies.
"The command center could just coordinate and speed things up, get it done faster. It's a coordination tool is what it is," Brodie said.
At the Wednesday meeting, Hoffman said the police already have the money in their budget for the local match. The money for computers and other equipment for the mobile unit would otherwise go to upgrading similar equipment in the department, he said.
Councilman Bryan von Lossberg wanted to know recent incidents where police would have used the mobile unit, had it been available. In response, Hoffman said the Mount Jumbo avalanche, which had multiple agencies responding, as well as the 20-hour standoff between police and an armed man on Cooley Street.
According to the grant application, the unit will help 319,975 people in western Montana, but it also will be available statewide.
"Basically, we included all of western Montana in order to get the grant," Hoffman said.