Havre Daily News - News you can use

Meth on the rise


Ryan Welch

Over 500 grams of methamphetamine along with paraphernalia that was confiscated a couple years ago by officers with the Tri-Agency Task Force lays on a table in the Havre Police station Tuesday.

Methamphetamines and opiates are on the rise again in Havre, and the police force and the Tri-Agency Task Force are making strides in keeping the substance out, officials said.

According to the Montana Incident-Based Reporting System, the drug offense rate, per 1,000 people, has almost tripled in Havre over the 10 years from 2007 to 2017, with the largest increases within the past five years.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich said a large number of these drug offenses are due to a drastic rise in methamphetamines seen statewide. Matosich added that the meth that is coming to Havre is coming into the U.S. from Mexico and through California and Washington before making its way to Montana, and it is of a purer quality and cheaper than previously seen, making it very dangerous. He said that in addition to the rising drug rate, this year - with sanctuary cities and a recent lawsuit in Chicago - funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program may be hampered.

Without that money, the task force would have problems doing the work it has been to keep down drug sales and use, he said.

The Havre Police Department first received money from JAG in 1987, Matosich said, adding that this grant used to be the sole funding for the task force, but now the task force has to provide a 30 percent match.

In the past, the task force has had some major accomplishments such as Operation Crystal Hi-Line from 2015 to 2016, which resulted in 15 indictments, and Operation Rocky Bear Paw from 2016 to 2017, which resulted in 13 indictments, said task force Agent C.J. Reichelt.

Operation Crystal Hi-Line was a multi-agency operation that took down an organization that was bringing meth from California to Butte, then to Havre and Rocky Boy, said Reichelt. Matosich said some of the people indicted made had never been to Havre before, and it was a good operation.

The agencies included in the Tri-Agency Task Force are Havre Police Department and the Hill, Liberty, Blaine, Phillips, Valley, Sheridan and Daniels county sheriff's offices, Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations and federal agencies.

The following year, said Reichelt, Operation Rocky Bear Paw took down a drug organization that has been in the area for 15 years, with nine indictments made out of Great Falls, Havre and Rocky Boy with a total of 13 indictments made.

In the 2017 calendar year task force statistics show a total of 181 cases and 108 arrests, and 2.35 pounds of meth, with the street value of $106,590, five vehicles and 23 guns were seized by the task force.

Reichelt and Matosich agreed that the fight never ends, and once one drug organization falls it is soon replaced with another. Because of that, the task force is an important part of keeping the community safe, they said.

Reichelt said the U.S. attorney's office wants to target higher-level meth dealers and violent offenders because they are the main source of supply and pose the largest threat.

He added that this effort provides vital funding for smaller communities in rural Montana and that without that it would be hard to imagine being able to operate the task force. He said the financial weight might be put on the local city and county governments to offset those costs, and there would be no way the city and county could do that.

Matosich said another drug that has been on the rise are opioids. These prescription pills are seeing a rise in price due to a drop in availability.

The rise in meth is a result of marijuana legalization, Matosich said, with drug cartels adapting to the changing market in these states.

"This is what we are seeing," he said.

He said the rise in drugs in the community affects every aspect of the community, causing a rise in crime as well as posing a major health risk.

Matosich said the majority of the crimes the police force investigate have drugs or alcohol involved.

According to the incident-based reporting system website, over the past 10 years, Hill County has seen an increase in violent crimes, aggravated assault and burglary or breaking and entering, among others.

Law enforcement agencies can take steps to fight these rising numbers, Matosich said, especially education.

Matosich said the agencies are constantly trying to educate people on the dangers of drugs and their effects on the individual as well as communities. He added that a school resource officer is now in place who does a tremendous job going from school to school educating students, teachers and parents on the risks.

"We start early on with the education," Matosich said. "We try to educate them up front about the dangers, risks, health issues and of course the criminality and prison time and all the stuff associated with it."

Reichelt said the task force does many presentations in schools and communities, such as community watch, churches, ambulance crews and first responders. He added that the task force does a presentation any time somebody wants one, more education being a benefit to any community.

The classes consist of identifying paraphernalia, drug identification and physical signs of drug use.

He said educational programs go all over Hill and Blaine counties as well as others. One of the programs they use, he said, is McGruff the Crime Dog, a program that's been going on for years and has a track record of being an effective educational tool.

Beyond community education, the task force is here to enforce the laws.

Matosich said the task force works with federal, state, local and tribal governments to go after top sellers and providers.

"That's huge for us all to work together to combat and enforce and work together to go after the drug dealers," he said.

He added that the task force has a history of working with the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, The Drug Enforcement Administration, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Border Patrol and other offices and agencies to work toward taking down larger drug operations.

Matosich said not all counties have a task force. Hill County is very proactive in enforcing the state and locals laws on drugs, he said, adding that the Tri-Agency Task Force goes from Liberty to Daniels and Valley counties.

He added that the numbers represented in the statistic are a result of the task force, police and Border Patrol doing their jobs.

"With more enforcement of it, the more stats you're going to develop," Matosich said.

In addition to the task force and other law enforcement agencies it is up to the community to help in the fight against drugs, Matosich and Reichelt agreed.

Matosich said the neighborhood watch or private citizens should feel welcome to report suspicious activity, even if it is an anonymous report. The community should keep an eye out for houses with a lot of traffic and properties that may seem suspicious, he added, and they will investigate it further.

He said parents should keep track of their kids and be involved with their lives. Some of the responsibility falls to the individual citizens of a community to be a positive role model for those within the community, he said, adding that education plays another important role in the war on drugs.


Montana Incident-Based Reporting System crime data map http://mbcc.mt.gov/Data/Crime-Data-Maps/Crime-Data-Maps/.


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