Northwest Montana law enforcement officers and tribal officials last week were afforded a rare sit-down with the country’s top cop to talk about two critical issues facing our state.
During his first official visit to Montana, U.S. Attorney General William Barr heard firsthand about the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women, as well as a methamphetamine epidemic in the state that host Sen. Steve Daines described as “staggering.”
Barr’s first stop was in Pablo where he met with tribal council members of the Salish and Kootenai Confederated Tribes. The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Other federal studies have shown that women on reservations are killed at more than 10 times the national average.
In response, Barr announced a new initiative to invest $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators across the U.S. with significant Indian Country caseloads — including one in Montana. The coordinators would be responsible for developing protocols for a better law enforcement response to missing persons cases.
We were pleased to see that President Trump quickly followed up Barr’s announcement in Pablo by signing an executive order this week that creates a White House task force that will follow new and unsolved cases. Barr’s initiative and Trump’s task force are both good first steps in addressing the issue that plagues reservations across the state, including the two in Northwest Montana.
While in Montana, Barr also met at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Posse headquarters in Evergreen to discuss how local and federal agencies can work together to tackle the state’s devastating meth problem. According to Sen. Daines, meth-related crimes in Montana were up 690% from 2011 to 2017.
We agree with Barr when he said that federal agencies need to work “hand in glove” with local law enforcement. Local sheriff’s offices and city police forces are on the front line of the fight against the distribution of illegal drugs and associated crimes. They should have the best tools and resources available in their effort to clean up Montana’s meth problem.
“I’m here to see what we can do more,” Barr said at the roundtable that included Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, as well as local sheriffs, police chiefs and health officials.
It’s not often Montana draws the ear of top White House officials, so it was encouraging to see Barr put boots on the ground and take the time to learn more about our corner of the state.
Montana’s pervasive meth problem, and the rate at which Native women go missing or experience violence are nothing short of alarming. These issues are certainly worthy of the spotlight, and it’s high time they got the attention of Washington, D.C.