By T.J. Pyette/Havre Daily News
Editor's note: Reporter T.J. Pyette wrote a series of articles on the Tri-Agency Task Force before she left the Havre Daily News to become a Hill County sheriff's deputy. This is the second of three parts.
For the drug police, each tip, each interview leads to another. And another.
"Drug cases are like a rope that never ends," said Jerry Nystrom, team leader for the Tri-Agency Task Force. "One case leads to another and you just keep trying to get to the top."
Working drug cases is more complicated and requires a greater time commitment than most other types of investigations, he said.
"All other law enforcement efforts happen after the fact," Nystrom said. "With drugs, we're trying to be involved during the crime as it unfolds. Therein lies the difficulty."
And all of that takes time. It was a nonstop schedule that led TATF to make 46 drug-related arrests in the past six months, more than half its annual goal of 72.
All the law enforcement agencies within TATF's six-county jurisdiction refer drug enforcement issues to TATF. Many of the referrals are time-sensitive.
"We may get a call from Malta (law enforcement) at 3 a.m., and we're on our way," Nystrom said. "There's no set schedule in this line of work. If it's happening, we're going to be there."
That type of call might begin a typical day for a task force agent. And the day will continue at full speed from that point.
"Depending what we find at that call, we may spend hours, even days, weeks and months following up," Nystrom said.
When agents report to the office each day, sometimes after spending the night in the field, they first check intelligence reports that pour in via e-mail, fax and telephone.
"We share information with numerous agencies," Nystrom said. "Every morning it's a flood of information."
Each task force agent receives reports from various agencies and then the force prioritizes the day's activities as a group.
"We may send (the other) two agents to Great Falls to conduct interviews with suspects in federal custody, while I'm following up leads here in town," Nystrom said.
Lunch hour? This past fall, agents spent "lunch hour" conducting surveillance at a local park, where they'd received numerous reports of juveniles consuming drugs rather than soup and sandwiches.
One day, all three agents piled into the surveillance vehicle and set out to monitor activity at the park, a routine procedure for such seasoned personnel.
"This is the exciting part of the job," one agent joked as he settled back in his seat and thumbed through a magazine, a pair of high-powered binoculars propped on his knee.
Nystrom scanned the area with his binoculars, looking for any sign of activity. That day, there was none.
After an hour of patient waiting and quiet discussion, the agents decided to move on to the next task at hand: serving a newly issued arrest warrant.
Nystrom shook his head as he motioned to the other agent to leave the park perimeter for the day.
"People who call in these types of tips get frustrated because they think we're not doing anything," he said after a fourth day in a row of noon hour park surveillance. "They don't see us out here because we're hidden and they're not supposed to, but then they think we aren't responding."
From the park, they headed to the home of a local dealer accused of violating the conditions of his release from jail by continuing to sell drugs.
A stop at the home of the accused found him in bed, asleep, and unprepared to go back to jail. Task force agents politely declined his request for them to "come back in an hour," and deposited him in a waiting Havre police patrol car without incident.
Back in the surveillance rig, the three split up; one agent is dropped off at the Hill County Courthouse to follow up on a case with the county attorney and the other two go to a hastily scheduled interview with a witness in a drug case that surfaced the night before.