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Attorney General Knudsen Announces Grant Program for New K9s to Crack Down on Illegal Drugs in Montana

HELENA – Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced a new $300,000 grant program today to help Montana law enforcement agencies obtain and train new canine units to crack down on the illegal drugs being trafficked into our state. The program reflects Attorney General Knudsen’s commitment to moving resources out of Helena and into the hands of local first responders and law enforcement.

During the 2021 Legislative Session, Knudsen secured funds in House Bill 701 for the Montana Department of Justice to administer a grant program helping law enforcement agencies purchase and train new drug-detecting K9s to replace those that were trained to detect marijuana after voters last year passed an initiative legalizing the drug. Representative Mike Hopkins carried the legislation implementing the initiative, while Representative Barry Usher sponsored the amendment containing the funds.

“Methamphetamine trafficked across the southern border and up to our state continues to be the number one public safety threat to Montanans. The dogs and training law enforcement agencies obtain through this program will play an integral role in helping us keep drugs out of our communities and improving public safety statewide,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “I appreciate the efforts of Representatives Barry Usher and Mike Hopkins in getting funding for this important program included in House Bill 701.”

“The marijuana K9 replacement program will play a crucial role in continuing efforts for public safety in Montana. It is my hope that law enforcement organizations will find a way to repurpose the current K9 units at schools, prisons, and highway scales rather than retiring them,” Representative Usher said.

Law enforcement agencies may apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to go towards the cost of replacing or obtaining new dogs and training the animal and the handler. It costs about $20,000 to obtain a dog and train it and its handler. Because many current police canines are trained to detect marijuana, which is now legal in certain quantities in Montana, they have lost much of their effectiveness as a drug interdiction tool.

The deadline for agencies to apply for the initial grant is Sept. 15, 2021. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of city, county, and state law enforcement officials. Agencies will be able to apply for an additional grant if there are funds left over.

Law enforcement leaders welcomed the additional support in the fight against drugs and crime in their communities.

“On behalf of local law enforcement, we are excited to see the inception and roll out of the grant process to replace drug dogs.  Agencies rely on our dogs on a daily basis and we want to ensure all dogs are properly trained and able to comply with the drug laws in our state,” Cascade County Sheriff’s Office Captain Scott Van Dyken, president of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, said.

“Obtaining K9s and training our handlers is expensive—and our officers need these critical resources to help keep our communities safe in the midst of increases in drug-related crime. We are incredibly grateful for the resources that the K9 replacement program will provide for all Montana law enforcement,” Dan Smith, Executive Director of the Montana Police Protective Association, a statewide organization of patrol officers, said.

Methamphetamine trafficked into Montana has led to a 91 percent increase in violent crime from 2013 to 2020, Montana Board of Crime Control statistics show. Austin Knudsen is committed to reversing this trend and putting the focus of the Attorney General’s Office on public safety.