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Senators Stress Need For Additional Law Enforcement

Noting that fentanyl seizures have increased by 11,000 percent in Montana since 2019, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., urged for increased support of law enforcement during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last week.

“Each time I meet with tribal leaders from Montana, law enforcement is their top priority. Indian Country is in a crisis. Tribal leaders I have spoken with have told me they feel like they are at war,” Daines said. “Multiple reservations in Montana have declared a state of emergency in response to the massive influx of fentanyl and meth flowing in from the Southern border. Cartel members are operating with impunity on reservations, embedding themselves in the community and exploiting the lack of law enforcement resources and jurisdictional gaps in Indian Country.”

Daines said the Montana Attorney General Office reports fentanyl seizures have increased by 11,000 percent since 2019.

“Montana’s tribal communities are ground zero for this destruction,” the Republican told the committee.

He asked for more accountability and transparency of funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to tribal law enforcement efforts.

On Thursday, May 23, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., stressed similar opinions during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

Tester began by pressing Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of the BIA, on the budget for law enforcement in Indian Country: “Many of the large land-based Tribes are bigger than states and they just have a few officers. What we’re seeing is what crooks do, they go wherever they can get away with committing crimes, and sometimes that’s in Indian Country. My question for you is, is this budget adequate to take care of the crime issues that are occurring in Indian Country?”

Tester continued to stress the consequences of underfunding tribal law enforcement. “I’m telling you, what we’ve got right now is inadequate. We’ve got a serious problem and it needs to be fixed. People are dying because of it, and that’s not an overstatement. People are dying. Lives are being ruined.”

Tester concluded by emphasizing the importance of investing in law enforcement and health care services. “We’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to figure out how to do better. We need more cops on the beat. We need more doctors. We need more nurses. Otherwise these numbers are going to continue to grow. Cartels are going to continue to move into Indian Country.”

Last November, Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board member Bryce Kirk testified in front of the same committee regarding the battle against fentanyl use.

He explained that people deal drugs to support their own habits.

“Our people can go to Spokane with $1,000 and bring 1,000 pills back and make $120,000. This is destroying families,” Kirk said.

Kirk told senators that the Fort Peck Reservation is experiencing a higher crime rate, including murders and kidnappings. In addition, he said suicides remain a large concern. “When did we get to that it’s OK for people to continue to lose their loved ones walking in front of trains?” Kirk asked senators.

He stressed the need for additional law enforcement in the area.

“We don’t need doors slammed in our face when we try to reach out to our federal partners,” Kirk said. “We need to work together with people coming onto our reservation. We need more mental and behavioral health.”

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