As Drug Activity Picks Up Along Borders, Law Enforcement Bands Together Resources

Police departments teaming up with border patrol agents to increase presence along highway corridors

By Dillon Tabish
Sheriff's vehicle. Beacon file photo

In early spring, local law enforcement officers partnered with U.S. Border Patrol agents during a six-week period, utilizing specific resources such as drug-sniffing dogs for any suspicious activities in the Flathead Valley. The operation resulted in 18 cases involving drugs, including 10 felony cases, and 31 people were arrested. Several other incidents, including burglary and theft, were solved as well, according to local officials.

Illegal drug activity is a constant, age-old problem for law enforcement. But the frequency has picked up in recent years, particularly related to the booming Bakken oil patch along the east side of Montana and in North Dakota. The FBI has warned that criminal activity has spiked in the region, where more than 20,000 people have converged since oil production skyrocketed in 2008. Drug cartels and organized crime rings have turned their attention to the area and methamphetamine and illegal painkillers, among the wide variety of drugs, have poured in.

Even on this side of the state, law enforcement officers have seen an uptick in criminal activity, likely related to drugs being funneled east. U.S. Highway 93 and Highway 2 have been identified as major arterials with significant impact on border safety and criminal-related activity, according to Roger Nasset, Kalispell’s chief of police.

Hoping to better combat drug trafficking and other crimes, the valley’s police departments and wildlife officers are enhancing their cooperative efforts and increasing patrols along the primary traffic corridors through Northwest Montana. The City of Kalispell last week accepted nearly $200,000 in federal grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security as part of Operation Stonegarden, a program designed to help local law enforcement agencies jointly secure U.S. borders.

The funding will be distributed to the Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish police departments, Montana Highway Patrol and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It will pay officers to work extra shifts and allow local law enforcement officers to pair up with border patrol agents, who have drug-specific resources. The cities have been involved with Operation Stonegarden since its inception in 2009, and the latest grant acceptance will extend for two years.

“We feel it’s a very beneficial program,” said Wade Rademacher, administrative captain for the Kalispell Police Department. ““A lot of stuff is being transported down Highway 93 or across Highway 2, whether it’s bringing drugs across the border from Canada or drugs being transported from the Washington area coming in from Highway 2. Those are our areas of focus.”