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Northwest Montana law enforcement seeing increase in federal drug indictments

Posted at 9:19 PM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 23:19:06-05

The Flathead County Sheriff's Office has been seeing a drastic increase in federally prosecuted drug cases in the last six years.

Drug Task Force Commander Logan Shawback told MTN News that since 2014, the amount of meth seized in the Flathead Valley has more than quadrupled.

"In 2014, we purchased or seized -- specifically methamphetamine -- about nine pounds throughout that calendar year. In contrast to 2019, where we purchased or seized about 56 pounds," he explained.

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino says the increase in drug activity causes other problems in the valley.

"We're seeing crime where they're stealing and trying to support their habits in a lot of cases, which increase the call volume essentially,” Heino said. “We're still around that 40,000 mark, but a lot of the calls that we're seeing are more dramatic.”

“We're seeing more guns in cases. We're seeing a robbery or burglary were people are taking more affirmative action to try to steal things while people are home,” he added.

The Flathead County Sheriff's Office also reports 40 vehicles were stolen between August and December of 2019.

The rise in drugs in the Flathead also means that the price of the product goes down. Shawback says this makes it more accessible to young adults, children and teenagers.

Sheriff Heino attributes the local increase to the high volume being produced.

"We went from it being made locally to now it's being mass produced across our borders and shipped across our borders daily," said Heino.

Flathead County Drug Evidence<div class="Figure-credit" itemprop="author">MTN News
The Flathead County Sheriff's Office has been seeing a drastic increase in federally prosecuted drug cases.

Shawback told MTN News that this increase forces law enforcement to process these crimes at a federal level instead of through the state. That led to 19 federal indictments in 2019 compared to seven in 2017.

"The federal system just has better guidelines for sentencing and punishment for the associated crime," he explained.

Heino says that Flathead County narcotic's unit has put in thousands of hours of overtime trying to keep drugs off the street.

Shawback remembers a specific story when this happened to someone in his unit.

"One of our investigations in 2019 lasted for about two months, and we had one specific case agent who worked every day except for three on that case -- which can take a toll on the officer as well as the family," he said.

Heino says Flathead County Sheriff's Office works constantly with other local and federal law enforcement agencies to try and manage the drastic drug increase.

He added that the public can help law enforcement by alerting them to any suspicious activity you may believe is drug related such as sudden behavior changes, an unexpected increase in cash or strong chemical smells.