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Project War Shield: An aggressive initiative to combat drugs

 

January 9, 2019



Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation has started a new aggressive initiative to combat the drug problem within the reservation.

“(The drug problem is) present,” Project War Shield Program Coordinator Gary LaMere Jr. said Tuesday. “It’s significant. That’s why our efforts are aggressive … because the problem calls for that.”

He said most of the drugs are coming from Washington state, along U.S. Highway 2. LaMere added that the drugs are originating from Mexico, going into California, then to Oregon and Washington, with U.S. Highway 2 being a main route into the reservation.  

LaMere said Project War Shield started as a conversation between the Tribal Business Committee members about two years ago, about how discouraged they were about the growing drug problem within the reservation. To them, it almost seemed like there was not enough going on as far as drug enforcement, he said.

Through these talks, LaMere said, the Business Committee passed a resolution called Project War Shield. He added that this resolution created the program and funding for positions. He said that was when the tribal committee members reached out to him and offered him a job as coordinator.

LaMere, who was raised in Rocky Boy, said he has 21 years in law enforcement, starting out with the Fort Belknap Police Department, where he worked for 17 years as a special agent investigating major crimes that took place on the reservation.

He also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was a special agent in Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, the Crow Agency and was a chief of police in New Mexico.

LaMere also was the regional agent in charge of the BIA division for drug enforcement.  

He said when the Rocky Boy Business Committee approached him asking him if he would like the job of coordinator for Project War Shield he knew he had to get involved.

“I loved it,” LaMere said.

“I have been all over Indian Country and I’ve never seen anything like War Shield,” he said. “The way it was presented to me, it’s pretty unique.”

He added that he wanted to focus on a specific area, one reservation where he can focus all of his efforts, because the drug problem does not only affect the reservation but the surrounding communities.

LaMere said he brings many different resources and knowledge about drug enforcement, coordinating and facilitating efforts as well as bringing in resources from the federal government.

After he got involved with Project War Shield, he said, he met with the Rocky Boy Police Department. He said he spoke with the department and they agreed to put together a resolution to create the drug enforcement unit. He said this was done so that the unit can investigate and present federal felony drug cases for prosecution directly to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana.

“It just had to have been done because all the dynamics of what’s going on and what wasn’t going on,” LaMere said. “We had to make a drug unit here.”

He said they wrote the resolution and the committee passed it.

The official start date of the drug enforcement unit was Dec. 15. Since then, the unit has made several arrests and confiscated a variety of drugs, firearms and money.

“It’s very impressive,” LaMere said. “These guys are motivated.”

Project War Shield is separate from the Drug Enforcement Unit, he said. His job as the program coordinator, LaMere said, is facilitating all drug enforcement matters with the police and assuring everyone is on the same page, working as a team, in order to get their mission accomplished.

“Drugs don’t only take from the community,” LaMere said. “It takes from the tradition and culture, as well.

He added that in the future he hopes to be able to incorporate cultural and traditional pieces into the project to help preserve the culture.

Project War Shield, LaMere said, is taking a three-pronged approach to fighting drugs: enforcement, treatment and prevention.

He said the project has already applied for several federal grants to help with prevention and treatment for drug addicts, adding that Rocky Boy also has a drug treatment center that will be utilized.

On the prevention side, LaMere said, Project War Shield will also be doing presentations at different schools, the college and for the tribal government staff about drug awareness and educating the community and the public of the dangers.

“Everybody is motivated and wants to carry and continue the work that’s going on,” LaMere said.

He added that Project War Shield will be working with the FBI, Tri-Agency Task Force and other federal agencies. LaMere said they need to work with these agencies because many of the drugs don’t come from the reservation but are brought in from other places.

Project War Shield is also developing an anonymous mobile phone tip line so anyone can make a text message and provide any information about drug crimes and remain 100 percent anonymous, he said.

LaMere said he wants to follow through with the objectives Project War Shield has for their two-year operations plan. He added that he also wants more community awareness and to be able to treat people who are addicted to drugs. Making it so children are safe and creating a better quality of life for those who live in the Rocky Boy community, he said.

The community members are responding well, he said. People are already coming in giving reports and utilizing Project War Shield.

He added that he is very proud of both Project War Shield and the Drug Enforcement Unit.

“Both units started from the ground up,” he said, “but with everybody’s effort and hard work, coming together to carry out a plan and seeing the positive results from it.

“I’m looking forward to the future of War Shield and the DEU and our other efforts, as well, as far as treatment and prevention,” LaMere said.

 

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