Larry Kline Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force is able to stay afloat this year despite another round of funding cuts, but the future is uncertain. The addition of FBI Safe Trails program dollars does not offset cuts in funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to the state Board of Crime Control, the agency’s team leader said Tuesday. “We’ll keep the same level of operation (this year), but every year it’s a crap shoot,” agent Jerry Nystrom said. “If we take the same hit next year ... we might have to shut down. I don’t know what we’re going to do next year if we don’t replenish that money.” The task force, which works against the distribution of drugs in Hill, Blaine, Liberty, Phillips, Judith Basin and Choteau counties, and Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations, must use $58,000 in forfeiture funds money and dollars from the sale of property seized during investigations this year to maintain its current level of operation, Nystrom said. “We had to make up for the shortage,” he said. That money is used in addition contributions of $24,000 each from the Havre Police Department, the Hill County Sheriff’s Office and an association made up of other agencies within the task force’s jurisdiction.
Money from the U.S. Department of Justice given to the state Board of Crime Control to fund Montana’s seven regional task forces has been slashed more than 61 percent in two years. In January, the task force became a part of the FBI’s Safe Trails program. Five agents were federally deputized, and the program gave the task force additional money. The Safe Trails program pays for vehicles, overtime, fuel and office rent. State money never paid for vehicles or overtime, Nystrom said. “It’s paying for things that weren’t paid for anyway,” he said. In a quarterly report, the task force said it made 86 arrests during the fiscal year that ended June 30. The report said 72 people arrested were suspected of being associated with the importation, distribution or manufacture of controlled substances, and 23 were identified as possible sources to youth. In the last quarter of the fiscal year, the agency seized an estimated $6,500 worth of drugs and more than $12,500 in cash, the report said. Also in the last quarter, the agency seized about 7 grams of methamphetamine, about 735 grams of marijuana, almost 5 grams of heroin, 71 prescription pills and a firearm.