Tester talks crime, drugs and border with Flathead law enforcement officials

Tester Discusses Crime, Drugs, and Border Issues with Flathead Law Enforcement Leaders

On a recent Friday in Kalispell, U.S. Senator Jon Tester had a significant meeting with law enforcement leaders from Flathead and Lincoln counties. The focus of their discussion was on strategies for preventing crime, stopping the flow of fentanyl, and enhancing border security measures.

Senator Tester, a Democrat now in his third term and seeking reelection, participated in a roundtable on March 15. This important meeting brought together key figures such as Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short, Columbia Falls Police Chief Clint Peters, Kalispell Police Chief Jordan Venezio, Deputy Chief Kevin Conway from the Whitefish Police Department, and representatives from the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force. The venue for this gathering was the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

Before his visit to Kalispell, Tester highlighted his efforts in Congress to tackle the illegal fentanyl trade. He played a pivotal role in co-sponsoring the FEND Off Fentanyl Act. This piece of legislation, which became part of a broader national security package, was approved by the Senate in February.

Despite its passage in the Senate, the bill is currently on hold in the U.S. House. If enacted, it would mandate the White House to impose sanctions on drug cartel leaders responsible for smuggling fentanyl into the United States. Additionally, it aims to equip the Treasury Department with new resources to combat money laundering activities linked to fentanyl, as reported by the media.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen raised alarms on March 6, revealing a staggering increase in fentanyl seizures in the state — over 20,000% since 2019. The Montana State Crime Lab reported approximately 80 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2023 alone. This marks a 1,900% surge from the figures recorded in 2017, according to Knudsen.

Tester also proudly supported a bipartisan appropriations package designed to prevent a government shutdown. This package, which includes funding to strengthen law enforcement efforts, was passed by the Senate on March 8 with a 75-22 vote. The spending bill, totaling roughly $467.5 billion, allocates $1.59 billion in grants for police departments and sheriff’s offices. It also provides $664.5 million for COPS grants to assist in hiring new law enforcement officers and $600 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Law Enforcement and Justice services.

Furthermore, the legislation earmarks $189 million for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Comprehensive Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Program and $547 million for organized crime and drug enforcement task forces.

During the roundtable discussion on crime prevention, fentanyl trafficking, and border security efforts, Senator Jon Tester shared insights with local law enforcement leaders, including Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino, Whitefish Police Deputy Chief Kevin Conway, Kalispell Police Chief Jordan Venizio, Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short, and Columbia Falls Police Chief Clint Peters. This event underscored the collective commitment to safeguarding communities and combating the fentanyl crisis.