HOULTON, Maine — Maine law enforcement agencies again are poised to go after a chunk of the $60 million that the federal government has made available to make borders safer.
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that $60 million has been set aside for Operation Stonegarden, an initiative that will give states additional funding and flexibility to strengthen America’s borders, according to a press release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Hodgdon.
Started in 2004, Operation Stonegarden has made funds available to more than 200 agencies in areas adjacent to the Canadian or Mexican borders to enhance their border security operations. Funds may be used to support overtime and per diem costs and to purchase equipment such as night vision technology and observation equipment to enhance security operations on the border in areas near U.S. Border Patrol operations.
Agent Mark Qualia of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Office said Tuesday that agencies that qualify for a grant may apply for a piece of the $60 million.
“It is a grant, and it benefits both us and local law enforcement,” said Qualia.
Qualia noted that another benefit of the program is increased coordination and collaboration among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
This year, eligibility for the grant is not restricted to law enforcement agencies in areas near the land borders with Canada and Mexico, but includes any state, local or tribal agency with a tie to an international boundary, including coastal areas.
The initiative aims to help local police departments increase patrol activities in vulnerable border areas.
The Houlton Police Department has benefited from the program in the past and will apply for funding again this year, Lt. Daniel Pelletier said Tuesday.
Pelletier said the department has used and will continue to use the money for increased patrols.
“In the past, we have been able to put officers on the streets for an extra 16 hours per week over a 12-week period,” he said. “During these details we are able to look for things that we normally look for, but we are able to look closer.
“It [the grant money] has been offered, and we are going to go for it,” Pelletier said Tuesday.