By Ross Markman
By late March, the Tri-Agency Task Force expects to get a $243,250 shot in the arm.
Established in 1987, the TATF is a team of three law enforcement officers one from the Havre Police Department, one from the Hill County Sheriff's Office and one from a combination of eight police agencies (Fort Belknap, Harlem, Chinook, and Judith Basin, Blaine, Liberty, Phillips and Chouteau counties) focused on investigating drug and drug-related crimes.
Monday night, the Havre City Council unanimously approved an agreement binding Havre's police with the other departments, allowing the TATF to apply to the Montana Board of Crime Control for the grant, which includes a local match of at least $71,818. Havre and Hill County will each contribute one-third; the other eight departments will pay the rest.
The grant will keep the agency operating for another year.
"This grant is to make sure (the task force) has specific, up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment," Mark Stolen, Havre assistant police chief and TATF project director, said in an interview last week.
The task force budget includes $3,000 for equipment, and $184,900 for wages and benefits for three agents and two secretaries. The rest is budgeted for investigation costs, Stolen said.
"Usually the (grant amount) fluctuates based on need, but the last few years it's been frozen," he added.
Stolen said it's money well spent.
"We've had a huge impact, even though it's certainly not a crime we've stopped. But unchecked, it would definitely be worse," Stolen said. "The last thing (drug dealers) want to hear is that the drug task force is coming to their area. The bad guys were just stunned that we could go from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."
And, according to Stolen, the task force may soon add another agency to its team, Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Right now, Fort Belknap is the only reservation in the TATF.
"There are few reservations that have signed to allow an outside agency to come in like this," he said. "But Rocky Boy is very interested. We hope it will happen soon. It just fits into our jurisdiction well."
The TATF also had a shot at extending its boundaries into Cascade County and Great Falls. Both, however, were offered federal funding for drug enforcement at the last minute and decided not to join the TATF, Stolen said.