KTVH: Sen. Tester and Sheriff Dutton talk about the importance of funding anti-drug policing efforts

by John Riley

On Thursday Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was joined by Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton to discuss the importance of proposed legislation that is aimed at boosting resources to help law enforcement combat drug trafficking and increase public safety.

“Last week we marked Nation Police Week honoring the sacrifices of Montana’s law enforcement officers and their families, the folks that keep us safe every day,” said Tester. “But frankly our police and first responders need a whole lot more than just a week of praise.”

The Assisting Narcotics and Trafficking Officers in Interdicting (ANTI) Drugs Act is being introduced by Tester and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

“Our bipartisan legislation provides important tools and resources to assist law enforcement in their efforts to keep dangerous drugs out of our communities,” said Hoeven.

The ANTI Drugs Act would see an increase in resources for three programs – High Intensity Drug Task Forces (HIDTA), Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Operation Stonegarden – that support law enforcement efforts to combat the drug epidemic and boost border security.

“Law enforcement officers across Montana and the West use Operation Stonegarden, COPS, and HIDTA resources to improve public safety, reduce drug crimes, and protect the our borders,” said Dutton, who is also a board member of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and President of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association. “The ANTI Drugs Act will provide critical support to our men and women in uniform, and help ensure that police departments have the resources they need to continue their serve their communities.”

The legislation proposes $300 million for HIDTA operations across the nation. Montana is home to five of the task forces which are comprised of members from local, state, Tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Operation Stonegarden provides funding to state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance coordination with Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol to defend America’s borders and catch bad actors before they can impact communities. The program would receive $110 million under the ANTI Drugs Act.

“Your money through the Stonegarden bill will help with paying for officers and deputies to be out there – chiefs and sheriffs – to be able to provide that extra patrols to keep our state safe and secure,” explained Dutton. “Now we can only do as much as we have people with, but this will make a huge difference.”

The COPS program is slated to receive $400 million that would be awarded as grants to law enforcement agencies in an effort to reduce crime and advance public safety through community policing. The program also supports state law enforcement agencies in combatting the manufacturing and trafficking of meth and opioids.

“But make no mistake about it if we do not invest – and this is an investment – into programs like this it’s going to cost us far more money on the other end,” explained Tester.

Tester introduced similar legislation in 2018 that got held up in committee. He’s confident with Hoeven’s partnership on the legislation and new leadership in committees that the latest effort to increase funding for anti-drug policing has a better shot a becoming law.