By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The first quarter of 2003 was marked with increased drug seizures and arrests, the Tri-Agency Task Force has reported.
During the past three months, the task force has upped its numbers in the types and quantity of drugs seized, arrests and new cases, team leader Jerry Nystrom said Tuesday.
The task force Monday released its figures for the third quarter of the 2002-2003 fiscal year. The numbers, which cover January through March, show a tenfold increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized when compared to the previous quarter.
Over the past three months, task force agents confiscated or bought 188 grams of meth, 356 grams of marijuana, 62 prescription pills and 0.7 grams of cocaine. Second-quarter totals were 17 grams of meth, 73 grams of marijuana, 60 pills and no cocaine.
In the third quarter, the task force made 23 arrests, opened 31 new cases, and closed 25 cases, compared to 20 arrests, 15 new cases and six closed cases during the second quarter.
"We're well above our projected goals," Nystrom said. "It's going very well."
He attributed the increase in the third quarter to community involvement, hard work, and luck.
"We're trying to send the message that if you mess with drugs in this jurisdiction, you're going to jail," Nystrom said. "It's not a matter of if you get caught, it's a matter of when you get caught."
The task force tries to charge offenders in federal court whenever it can, Nystrom said. Federal laws provide stiffer sentences than state laws in many cases, he said.
"If we can meet the federal guidelines, we're gonna go for it," he said. "You just get more time in the federal system."
His sentiments were echoed by local FBI agents, who say drug cases are a high priority for the bureau in Havre.
The task force and FBI often work drug cases together. Cases will be prosecuted in federal court if the offense is connected to an Indian reservation, committed in a public housing area or involves large quantities of drugs. The use of a firearm during trafficking is also grounds for federal charges.
A recent case worked by the two agencies involved a couple accused of selling drugs at the family housing unit at Montana State University-Northern. The FBI and task force raided the couple's apartment last fall, and netted large quantities of meth, marijuana, cocaine and cash, according to a charging document filed in the case.
The couple was indicted on federal charges last month.
The Tri-Agency Task Force is drug interdiction team that consists of three agents and two support staffers. The task force operates in Hill, Blaine, Liberty, Phillips, Judith Basin and Chouteau counties.
The team has an annual budget of $243,250. Seventy percent of the money comes from a grant through the Montana Board of Crime Control. The remaining 30 percent is paid by the cities of Havre and Chinook, the six participating counties, and the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations.
People with tips should call Crimestoppers at 265-4444 or the task force at 265-1192.People with tips should call Crimestoppers at 265-4444 or the task force at 265-1192.