Federal Grants Put More Cops on the Streets

Fourteen counties receive $1.5 million in grants to combat drug trafficking

By Justin Franz

More than $1.5 million in federal grants will put more police officers on the streets of Northwest Montana in the fight against international drug trafficking.

Sen. Jon Tester recently announced that 14 counties in Montana would receive funds as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Stonegarden progam. The program provides money to local police forces to pay for equipment and personnel. Among the communities receiving funds are Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, and Glacier counties and the Blackfeet Nation. This year saw a significant increase in the amount of money awarded to the state through the program.

Last year just over $1 million was granted, but the Department of Homeland Security has since increased its Stonegarden program funding by 44 percent.

Tester said the money was critical to combating terrorism, human trafficking and the drug trade.

“Nothing is more important than keeping our borders secure and our communities safe,” Tester said. “These resources will boost local law enforcement’s ability to stop dangerous drugs from coming through our ports and ensure there are no weak links along our border.”

Flathead County is receiving $200,000, much of which will be divied up among the Kalispell Police Department, the Columbia Falls Police Department and the Whitefish Police Department. Kalispell Patrol Captain Tim Falkner said some of the money would be used to pay for overtime to have additional officers on patrol. Some of it may also be used to  purchase new radios, which can cost thousands of dollars.

“The extra patrols will help us get more officers out on the street and be more visible in the community,” he said.

This year is the first time that Lake County received funds from the Operation Stonegarden program. Sheriff Don Bell said the $100,000 the county is getting would also go toward paying officers to patrol major highway routes, including U.S. Highway 93, on their days off. Although Lake County isn’t directly on the border, Bell said its highways have become a primary route for drug trafficking, including marijuana from Canada.

“This grant will help us increase our manpower,” Bell said.