For the first time in the state’s history, six K-9 narcotics units are bolstering the force of the Montana Highway Patrol to guard the I-90 and I-94 corridors against drugs.
“These dogs will be a huge benefit when it comes to vehicles moving contraband across the state,” said Trooper Shawn Fowler.
The K-9 units are based at undisclosed, strategic locations throughout Montana and will travel the state regularly to conduct drug-interdiction operations. Each of the K-9s is a single-purpose animal.
“Their whole goal in life is to find dope in a car,” said Montana Highway Patrol Maj. J.V. Moody, commander of the K-9 team.
The dogs’ detection ability enables the handler to conduct thorough and complete searches with minimal time and personnel as well as increasing safety to officers.
A seventh dual-purpose K-9 has been added to the force as an “executive protection” animal. Its purpose is explosive detection and patrol. The K-9 will be used to screen venues prior to Gov. Steve Bullock’s speaking or appearing. It will also be used occasionally for public events held at the governor’s mansion, Moody said.
The K-9 will also be called in for mutual aid when bomb threats are made at schools and other public events.
“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Moody said.
The K-9s began working in mid-June. Each dog lives with an assigned handler.
Attorney General Tim Fox introduced the K-9s and their handlers, saying drug trafficking is a “growing problem” in Montana, especially in and around the oil-booming Bakken area.
In Montana, 70 people — about half from outside the region — have been charged since October with federal drug offenses. Last spring, about 10 others, including two reputed members of the notorious Sinaloa cartel, were accused in a drug conspiracy. The two pleaded guilty to distributing at least 80 pounds of meth to local drug dealers within a five-month period; the intended market, the feds said, was the oil patch, according to an Associated Press report in April.
“The Highway Patrol’s first-ever K-9 units are an important step forward in our ongoing efforts to combat the flow of illegal drugs in and through Montana,” Fox said. “In the short time they’ve been in service, these highly trained K-9 units have already accomplished great things and demonstrated their significant value.”
The primary value of the K-9 unit lies in its high-visibility on the highways, Fox said. The psychological effect and deterrent are immeasurable.
“Montana is not a place where they are going to want to be doing business,” Fox said.
Purchasing and training the dogs was paid with drug-forfeiture money and grants from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.
Each of the dogs cost $6,500 and each of the seven new patrol units to accommodate the dogs cost $25,000. Those costs do not include gear, kennels and other equipment.
“We’re excited to have these new teams in service,” said Col. Tom Butler, chief of the Highway Patrol. “A tremendous amount of time and hard work have gone into making our first-ever K-9 narcotic units a reality. Regularly partnering with other law enforcement agencies in Montana, our robust drug-interdiction work has been made even stronger by the addition of these new units.”
In early 2014, after a rigorous screening process based on evaluations, interviews, and work-related experience, the patrol selected its new K-9 handlers. In April, the drug-detecting K-9s arrived at the training facility in Big Timber. The K-9s were purchased through Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania and came to Montana directly from Europe.
In May, the Patrol held its first K-9 training academy in Big Timber. The teams graduated on June 16 and are certified by the North American Police Work Dog Association.