The Hill County Sheriff's Office has purchased two patrol vehicles through a federal grant which aims to improve cooperation between local and federal governments in protecting the borders.
Sheriff Don Brostrom said his office bought the vehicles using money from Operation Stonegarden, a Department of Homeland Security program intended to increase cooperation between federal agencies and local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies to secure the United States borders.
Without the grants, in a time of budget cuts, his office could not have purchased new vehicles, Brostrom said.
“I don’t think this county could run without grants,” he said.
The Operation Stonegarden grant provided the $75,000 used to purchase Chevrolet and Dodge half-ton four-wheel drive pickups and equip them with standard law enforcement accessories.
Brostrom said the vehicle purchase, made from a 2008 $150,000 grant, leaves the county $10,000 of that award. The rest has been used to pay overtime and benefits for deputies working under Operation Stonegarden, he said. The remainder is likely to be used in the next few months, he said.
The sheriff’s office received a $218,000 Operation Stonegarden grant in 2009.
Tim Lambourne of the Border Patrol said the program is nationwide, providing money to law enforcement agencies on the northern, southern and coastal borders.
“(It is) to increase eyes on the ground for border security,” he said, adding that half of each grant can be used for equipment and half for operational overtime for officers to focus on border security issues.
It also leaves more officers and equipment to respond to other events, he added
“It allows the sheriff, basically, just more guys out patrolling and enforcing not just the county laws, but also assisting us with the federal laws,” he said.
Lambourne said all jurisdictions with a Northern border in the Havre Sector — from the U.S. Divide in Glacier County to the North Dakota border — have received grants.
Since the program was implemented on the Northern border in 2008, law enforcement agencies in Montana have received more than $3 million in grants, he said.
Brostrom said the grants have been a major bonus to his office, purchasing new radio equipment for the new improved communications system installed as part of Interoperability Montana, as well as paying overtime and benefits for deputies.
“The two vehicles sitting out there never would never have been purchased with county dollars,” he added. “There was no money last year, obviously there will be no money this year.”
While the vehicles will be dedicated to use in Operation Stonegarden activities, restricted to helping the Border Patrol with patrols and assistance between U.S. Highway 2 and the Canadian border, that will save wear and tear on the 12 vehicles used by the sheriff’s office in general patrols and responses, Brostrom said.
With the budget cuts, he is keeping vehicles six to eight years rather than retiring them about every five to six years, he said. With the deputies averaging 95,000 miles a year on each vehicle, keeping extra miles off will help extend their life.