Montana Violent Offender Task Force sees modest increase in felony fugitive arrests

Montana Violent Offender Task Force sees modest increase in felony fugitive arrests

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The Montana Violent Offender Task Force arrested 1,918 felony fugitives during 2019, bringing its arrest total to 15,353 since the group was formed in 2005.

The task force, which is organized by the U.S. Marshals Service District of Montana, is described on its website as "a collaborative partnership between law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels." Much of the group's work involves carrying out arrest warrants.

In 2019, arrests included 774 in Great Falls, 659 in Billings and 485 in Missoula. About 85% of arrest warrants are state and local warrants and many of those arrested are parolees, said U.S. Marshal for Montana Rod Ostermiller. 

Arrest totals have continued to rise during the past several years for the task force, which has continued to grow and add member agencies. There are 23 member law enforcement agencies in the MVOTF. 2018 was the first year in which Great Falls law enforcement was fully involved in the task force, Ostermiller said.

Because of that addition of the Great Falls Police Department to the task force, the group's arrests rose by 26% in 2018, from 1,479 in 2017 to 1,871.

In 2018, the task force seized 6,412 grams of meth and 36 guns. In 2019, those numbers increased to 8,551 grams of meth and 116 guns. Many of the guns were stolen.

In explaining the increased activity of the task force in 2019, Ostermiller pointed toward a growing meth problem in Montana.

"Generally, where we find meth, we don't find guns too far away," Ostermiller said. 

Ostermiller said it's not uncommon for the arrest of someone with guns or drugs to generate additional criminal cases.

The 2019, numbers show a more than 2,000-gram increase in meth seizures. Firearms seizures also increased in 2019, by a total of 80 firearms.

The increase in meth seizures by the task force echoes data from other law enforcement groups. The Gazette reported earlier in January that the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Task Force seized 122 pounds of meth, an increase of 92 pounds from 2014. 

“It’s not uncommon to find somebody with pound-level quantities now,” Billings Police Department Lt. Brandon Wooley said at the time.

Ostermiller said the task force is increasingly seeing non-compliant behavior from people being arrested, making the work more dangerous and making training even more important.

In a press release, the task force also provided statistics for other seizures.

In 2019, 78 grams of cocaine were seized, along with 563 grams of heroin and 20 stolen vehicles. All of those numbers represent an increase from the previous year, with the exception of stolen vehicles.

In 2018, the task force seized 18 grams of cocaine, 488 grams of heroin and 21 stolen cars.

Members of the task force include police departments in Billings, Great Falls, Bozeman, Cut Bank, Helena, and sheriff's offices in Yellowstone County, Gallatin, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Cascade, Roosevelt, Glacier, Hill, Valley, Dawson, Custer, the Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole, Attorney General’s Office, DEA, Northern Cheyenne BIA, Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services, Chippewa Cree Law Enforcement Services, Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice, and the U.S. Social Security Administration. 

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