In an effort to address the growing drug crisis in Idaho, law enforcement officers and prosecutors from across the state have launched a week-long intensive training program called “Top Gun.”
Designed to equip officers with the skills and knowledge needed to combat the surge in narcotics-related crimes, the program is hosted by the Idaho State Police (ISP) and the Idaho National Guard.
Originally trialed last year, the Top Gun program is being hailed as a vital initiative aimed at bringing together a diverse group of law enforcement professionals to tackle the drug epidemic that has been plaguing the state.
Captain John Kempf of the Idaho State Police said the training, which simulates real-life scenarios, was urgently needed to respond to the drug crisis in the state.
“Idaho has been doing narcotics training for detectives around the state for the last 19 years. But we needed to change things up when we started to see the amount of fentanyl and methamphetamine that we’ve seen throughout the state, our overdose deaths have gone through the roof — they now outpace our fatality crashes in Idaho,” Kempf told KTVB7.
The training program covers a wide range of topics, from ethical approaches to narcotics investigations and undercover work to search warrants and raid conduct.
Importantly, it places a strong emphasis on safety, ethics and efficiency in handling drug cases, ensuring that officers are well-prepared for their roles on the front lines of the drug crisis.
The need for such a program has become increasingly evident with the rise in overdose deaths in Idaho.
In 2022 alone, there were 381 drug-related deaths in the state, with a significant portion attributed to fentanyl overdoses.
This year, around 40 officers attended the program.
Notably, Dominic Tierno, a local filmmaker who produced a documentary titled Dead on Arrival about the fentanyl crisis, expressed support for the program.
He believes that Top Gun training will empower officers to make a positive impact both in the field and within their communities.
“I believe that doing this training will give them that sense of, ‘Hey, I have a unique ability to serve in this area. I have gifts that I can use not only in the field but at home with my friends and families as well,’” Tierno said. “And I’m excited to see Idaho specifically win this war against fentanyl.”
Top Gun is open to officers from various levels of law enforcement, including city, county and state agencies, as well as federal agencies. The organizers also stressed the importance of sharing and collaboration when it comes to training, as narcotics often enter and pass through Idaho from other states.
Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf has high hopes for the program.
“We hope to have an impact on the drug crisis that’s facing Idaho by having well-trained professional investigators back on the street everywhere in the state of Idaho,” the captain shared.
The condensed one-week format of the program also allows it to provide free training to agencies that may have budget constraints.
Officers from other states, such as Montana and Oregon, have also participated in the Top Gun program, underlining its regional importance.
In early 2023, Governor Brad Little established “Operation Esto Perpetua,” a strategy aimed at protecting Idaho communities from drug threats.
Luke Malek, chairman of the Esto Perpetua Committee, said that law enforcement’s efforts were essential to combating the influx of fentanyl and the dangers associated with it.
“That war against fentanyl is obviously crucial to our quality of life here in Idaho,” Malek said. “And the work that these folks are doing is crucial to the work that the governor’s task force on fentanyl is doing.”
In a unique collaboration, prosecutors also participated in the Top Gun program, training alongside law enforcement officers and offering legal advice as part of the joint operation.
Andrew Haws, deputy prosecuting attorney for the Canyon County Attorney’s Office, praised the partnership between law enforcement and legal officials.
“It’s a partnership, very much so,” Haws said. “Obviously, these guys are boots on the ground, but when it comes to understanding court decisions or procedures, we’re there. We work hand-in-hand trying to address this. Hats off to ISP for putting this on and for all the law enforcement partners for joining and going through this training. It’s a joint operation.”