Report seeks cooperation on border security

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

While he said he had not had time to read the full report, the Hill County sheriff said Friday he agrees with conclusions of a study on security strengths and weaknesses on the northern border — agencies need to increase cooperation, collaboration, communication and technology use.

Sheriff Don Brostrom said his office works closely with Customs and Border Protection, including through federal grants in the Operation Stonegarden programs.
“We still have a tremendous weakness in the area of interoperable communications,” Brostrom said. “I feel we do a decent job of sharing information between agencies, however this sharing of information fails when we cannot speak between agencies when officers are out in the field.”

The report is the result of a study requested by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
The release Tester issued Friday announcing the report says the study shows gaps in security on the northern border, including a lack of interoperable communications systems and limited sharing of intelligence and information between local and federal officials.

“There’s no doubt we’ve got to do better at securing the southern border — but this report also shows that Homeland Security’s effort to secure the northern border has earned a grade of ‘incomplete’,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  “These federal agencies have got to develop strategies and joint efforts that maximize existing resources so taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck.

“We’ve got to make smarter use of technology because we don’t need or want the border overloaded with federal agents,” Tester said. “And, we’ve got to keep working to make state and local law enforcement a part of the team."

He said implementing the recommendations in the report will help prevent illegal activity on the northern border, including reducing the chance of terrorists and illegal drugs crossing into the United States. “If we can make these improvements, our country will be stronger and our communities will be safer,” Tester added.

Brostrom said funding through Operation Stonegarden has provided money for additional equipment and mileage as well as operational overtime that helps the officers in the Hill County Sheriff’s Office to work with the Customs and Border Protection agents in keeping the border secure. The funding allows more manpower to guard the border, he said.

But, Brostrom said, more needs to be done to increase communication between agencies. That can be done better using technology, including the improved  system installed in the area through the Interoperability Montana program, which increases communications capabilities within and among agencies. 

Hill County is the host of one of the two system management centers on the northern tier of the system. Once fully installed, it will allow seamless communication across the northern section of Montana.

The goal is to eventually provide seamless communication across the entire state, with talk groups set up to allow communications in different agencies, like the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, the Havre Police Department and the Havre Fire Department, as well as communication between the different agencies using the system during emergencies.

Brostrom added that much also could be done to improve communications on border issues — at no cost to the taxpayers — by making interoperable communications a common goal of all local, state and federal agencies.

“Some of this can be accomplished by eliminating the ‘red tape’ that exists in nearly every state and federal agency,” Brostrom added.