Havre Daily News: Tester introduces ANTI Drug Act to Senate

by Dane McGuire

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a press call Thursday to discuss the introduction of his bipartisan Assisting Narcotics and Trafficking Officers in Interdicting – ANTI – Drugs Act.

The act is intended to “boost funding for critical law enforcement programs that make a tangible difference in Montana communities including border security program Operation Stonegarden, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area – HIDTA – and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants,” a press release said.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton joined Tester to discuss the bill and other critical public safety measures. Dutton is the president of the Western States Sheriffs’ Association and a board member of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Tester said this legislation provides $300 million for HIDTA task forces. He said Montana is home to five regional HIDTA task forces operating in Cascade, Flathead, Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Yellowstone counties.

Tester addresses Canandian border concerns

Secondly, the bill provides $400 million for Operation Stonegarden. Tester said his funding supports law enforcement agencies that work in coordination with Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol to defend, in Montana’s case, the northern border.

“The intent is not to leave the southern border high and dry nor the northern border is dry. But it’s to support law enforcement along both of those borders. I think this is broad-base. Same thing with Operation Stonegarden, same thing with the COPS program,” Tester said.

Tester said the U.S. has a massive border with Canada overall and it includes a lot of water assets of both nations. He said not to take eyes off the northern border because, as Dutton knows, “bad guys go to the weakest link in the chain.”

ANTI Drugs Act fights back against meth production and human trafficking

The act also provides $110 million for the COPS program. This program supports state law enforcement agencies in combating the manufacturing and trafficking of meth and opioids in Montana.

“This is not a top-down approach from Washington and that’s why I’m thrilled to be joined by Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton, who will speak to why boosting funding for these three to three critical programs can make a tangible difference in reducing crime all across our state,” Tester said.

Dutton said this money will make a difference locally and it will make a difference in the state because of other areas of the state that can use the money.

“Also, now as the current president of Western State Sheriffs Association, which is comprised of 17 states west of the Mississippi, they were quite thrilled to hear about your proposed legislation, Stonegarden especially and HIDTA. The money comes at a critical time,” Dutton said.

Dutton said that, three weeks ago, sheriff’s deputies intercepted cartels walking across the border with backpacks containing 300 pounds of methamphetamine.

“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 extra patrols to keep our state safe and secure. We can only do as much as we have people with, but this will make a huge difference,” Dutton said.

Local impact

Dutton went into more detail about how the money will be used locally.

“Locally, it will be used for the HIDTA part of it which is a partnership with the federal task forces and local task forces and the Missouri River Drug Task Force. We work cases that come from just out on the street, and we work them back to the sources,” Dutton said.

He said the Mexican cartel is the greatest distributor of pure methamphetamine and the cartel is trying to increase their market size.

“That is where we’ll use the money. It’s coming from the borders and I should also mention this money will help, when we’re looking for drugs, oftentimes human trafficking is a huge part of that. That’s what’s happening. Montana, Helena, Montana is affected by that,” Dutton added.

When asked about the movement to defund police, Tester said he opposes that idea.

“I would say they need to get in the reality of the real world. Our police are putting their lives on the line every day. And and quite frankly defunding the police is a non-starter and over my dead body. The fact is, these folks need assets. If we’re going to expect our police to be able to step up and do the job that we expect them to do, it’s going to cost a few bucks,” Tester said.

Tester said these particular programs or programs that have proven to be effective, and will continue to be effective, as long as they’re properly resourced.

“I don’t think there’s a left handful of people in the United States Senate that want to defund the police,” Tester added.

Dutton echoed Tester’s sentiments.

“When we took an oath to be a peace officer, and support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Montana or respective states, nowhere do we look at to say, well, we’ll only play it if you help us. We took an oath and if you spit in our face, we still protect you. If you cuss at us, we still protect you,” Dutton said.

Dutton said the greatest supporter of defunding the police has been the Mexican drug cartels. He said that’s an open market for them for not only their drugs, but human trafficking.

“What Sen. Tester is doing is a public safety benefit and a gift to humanity because these cartels have no respect for a person, they are a product abuser,” Dutton added.

Tester said he thinks the bill can pass and be signed into law.

“I’ve got a great partner in Sen. John Hoeven. We happen to be in the majority and I think it’s important we take another run at this to do our level best to make sure it does. Hoeven is a solid guy from North Dakota who I’ve worked with on many issues. We control some chairmanships and friends of mine control chairmanships. I think there’s an opportunity to apply some pressure,” Tester said.

Tester said he feels this bill is an investment into these programs and not doing so now will be costly in the long run as it pertains to mental health and addiction treatment discussed previously.

The bill was introduced to the Senate Thursday in conjunction with the press call.