Attorney General Knudsen, law enforcement leaders gather in Billings to support governor’s public safety budget

Attorney General Knudsen, law enforcement leaders gather in Billings to support governor’s public safety budget

BILLINGS – Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen convened law enforcement officials and legislators in Billings to discuss and show support for Governor Greg Gianforte’s executive budget recommendations that increases investment in law enforcement and public safety resources amidst the drug crime crisis that has grown over the past decade in Montana.

The Governor’s budget proposal, released last month, includes additional Highway Patrol troopers, investigators, prosecutors, and other support staff at the Montana Department of Justice to fight human trafficking, crack down on drugs, keep our roadways safe, and support crime victims.

“We can’t keep policing in Montana like it’s 1995. Previous administrations failed to recognize the growing drug and crime problems in our state and did not take appropriate measures to confront it. That changed last year when Governor Gianforte and I came into office,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “We’re taking action at the Department of Justice to get the problem under control, but we need the legislature to fund our request during the upcoming session.”

Human Trafficking: 
Montana Department of Justice human trafficking investigators initiated 64 cases in fiscal year 2022, an increase of 300 percent from 16 in the previous fiscal year. Building on Attorney General Knudsen’s work to raise awareness, increase training, and develop a comprehensive response to human trafficking in the state, the Governor’s budget would add:

  • Four human trafficking agents that would be placed in locations with federal and/or local partners to provide comprehensive coverage of the state;
  • An additional prosecutor dedicated to work on the increased human trafficking casework generated by the increased capacity.

Law enforcement seizures of dangerous drugs have increased dramatically in recent and are on pace to exceed previous records, including more than 155,000 dosage units of fentanyl and 172 pounds of methamphetamine in the first three quarters of the year. Attorney General Knudsen has dedicated additional resources to fighting the drug epidemic, but more is needed. The executive budget proposal would add:

  • Three additional narcotics investigators to address gaps where the DOJ narcotics bureau does not have a strong presence and
  • An additional prosecutor dedicated to address the increased narcotics caseload.

As Montana’s population increases, there has also been an increase in calls for service and fatal crashes. Meanwhile, more and more traffic stops are leading to drug seizures and related crime. The budget proposal would provide MHP with:

  • Five additional troopers to patrol thinly covered areas and help reduce the number of fatal crashes;
  • A data analyst to produce insights into trooper deployments, crash patterns, and development related legislative and policy proposals.

Major Crimes: 
DCI’s Major Case Section provides criminal investigative assistance to city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. In recent years, the department has had to decline requests for assistance as murders, sexual assaults, and use-of-force incidents have increased in Montana. To ensure DCI can work the full array of crimes against persons and property, the governor’s budget would provide:

  • Three investigators to improve service and responsiveness and the number of cases the section can take on and
  • An additional prosecutor to the Attorney General’s Office to handle the additional cases associated with these and other investigations.

Other Crime: 
The governor’s budget would also fund additional positions at DCI to combat a wide array of other crimes:

  • An investigator focused on exploitation of vulnerable adults cases;  an additional prosecutor dedicated to address the increased caseload
  • An investigator within the Computer Crime Unit specifically Internet Crimes Against Children;
  • A manager for the Sex Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program to provide victims options to receive care and improve sexual assault prosecutions; and
  • A coordinator to support the statewide Missing Murdered Indigenous Persons Program (MMIP).

Some of the positions, such as those related to MMIP and SANE depend upon the passage of other legislation authorizing the programs.

The total cost would be $4 million for fiscal year 2024 and $3.1 million in 2025. The higher cost in the first year of the biennium is due to upfront equipment purchases such as computers, patrol vehicles, and service firearms.

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