Comments Off on Methamphetamine contributing to high percentage of overall crime in Gallatin County

It seems like hardly a day goes by when you don’t see someone arrested in Gallatin County for a methamphetamine-related offense.

It could be when a Bozeman police officer pulls over a driver for a traffic offense and discovers a small baggie with a crystalline substance and a residue-covered pipe.

It could be when an investigator with the Missouri River Drug Task Force serves a search warrant on a home and finds meth in a box in a bedroom of a home where three children live.

No matter how it is discovered, methamphetamine permeates Gallatin County like the rest of Montana, leaving officials working to find elusive solutions.

Capt. Ryan Stratman of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office is the commander of the Missouri River Drug Task Force, a multi-agency unit that investigates drug-related crimes.

The task force has participants from Bozeman, Belgrade, West Yellowstone, Livingston and Helena, as well as Gallatin, Broadwater, Park, Madison, Meagher and Lewis and Clark counties.

The group primarily investigates four types of drugs: meth, heroin, prescription drugs and marijuana.

Meth is what we most commonly see in our area,” Stratman said.

In the task force’s coverage area, investigators seized 12 pounds of meth as part of their investigations in fiscal year 2016.

In the current fiscal year, which ends at the end of this month, Missouri River Drug Task Force investigators have seized just more than 31 pounds of the drug.

Stratman said the latest total is due to some large seizures with the task force dismantling a significant trafficking organization that had been bringing meth into the Treasure State.

But it’s a trend Stratman and other officials don’t think is slowing down.

“I expect it to increase, continually increase,” he said.

Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Wilfore, commander of the Bozeman district, agreed.

“It hasn’t slowed down,” Wilfore said of meth’s presence in the state.

Data from the Montana Highway Patrol’s annual report shows that meth arrests have drastically increased since 2012. In that year, troopers made 15 meth-related arrests. Last year, that number spiked to 141.

And troopers seize multiple pounds of the drug each year — about 6.5 pounds last year, about 9.3 pounds the year before that and more than 18 pounds in 2014.

Just shy of halfway through this year, Wilfore said troopers have already exceeded last year’s meth seizure total.

And those numbers are expected to increase significantly with the addition of the Highway Patrol’s new criminal interdiction team.

The six-trooper unit, which is anticipated to begin operating in July, will focus on criminal interdiction, which includes a focus on narcotics.

“We had been wanting this for some time,” said Wilfore, who currently oversees the patrol’s criminal interdiction and K9 programs.

While there are troopers around Montana trained for criminal interdiction, Wilfore said it is essentially part-time work due to other responsibilities such as traffic enforcement and crash investigation.

Methamphetamine is primarily making its way to Montana from Mexican cartels, which are turning to methamphetamine as states across the country continue to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.

Here in Bozeman, that meth gets here through distributors in areas like Seattle and Spokane, Washington, Butte and Salt Lake City, among others, Stratman said.

More than half of all felony cases filed in Gallatin County District Court this year are for felony drug charges.

Through Friday, there have been 235 total felony cases filed this year.

More than 53 percent of those, 124 in all, involve felony drug charges, such as criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal distribution, or possession with intent to distribute.

And of those drug charges, 89 involve methamphetamine.

Breaking that down, that means meth is involved in nearly 72 percent of drug cases, and almost 38 percent of all cases in Gallatin County.

A vast majority of those cases are drug possession, stemming from anything from a traffic stop to meth found as part of investigations into other crimes.

Many of those cases are repeat offenders who have multiple drug cases, either pending or charged in the past.

And a large number of those cases involve other crimes, like thefts, child endangerment and DUIs.

They’re either high on meth, addicted to meth or looking for money to purchase,” Stratman said.

To help address methamphetamine and a wide range of other substance abuse issues, the Montana Department of Justice is spearheading a project to bring together folks from a wide spectrum to come up with solutions for substance abuse issues.

That project, Aid Montana, is working with stakeholders in the fight against substance abuse — law enforcement, treatment providers and counselors, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and medical and mental health providers.

Starting with listening sessions in cities across the state, organizers hope to create a strategy for addressing substance abuse, ultimately coming up with information and a blue print to present to legislators in 2019.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said this collaborative effort is a first-of-its-kind project and an all-encompassing approach.

“Frankly, this is a call to action,” Fox told the Chronicle. “We want Montanans to get engaged, be educated, be part of the dialogue and be a part of the solution.”

Fox said concurrent to the project, his office has a researcher studying resources available through government programs that may be able to help. His office is also working with other larger organizations as well as Montana’s congressional delegates to identify opportunities for federal dollars.

“What we’ve seen is we’ve got a lot of very well-intentioned people who have great expertise in certain areas, but very few of us are pulling in the same direction and talking to each other,” Fox said. “Through this collaborative effort, we will have a better picture of what’s going on and ultimately what we should do to best address this.”




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