Gianforte, Knudsen lead call to boost law enforcement funding
News from the Office of the Governor
HELENA — Together with Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Montana Department of Justice officials, Governor Greg Gianforte recently urged Montana legislators to invest in law enforcement to build safer, stronger communities.
“Government’s chief responsibility is to keep its citizens safe. It’s why we worked with Attorney General Austin Knudsen to boost funding for law enforcement in our Budget for Montana Families, and it’s why we’re calling on the legislature to get these investments across the finish line today,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Together, we can build safer, stronger Montana communities.”
With a rise in drug-related and violent crime nationwide and in Montana, Gov. Gianforte made investing in law enforcement and increasing access to treatment top priorities in his Budget for Montana Families.
Working with Attorney General Austin Knudsen, the governor proposed funding five new highway patrol troopers, four new human trafficking agents, three new major case investigators, three new narcotics agents, and seven attorneys, including prosecutors, at the Montana Department of Justice.
The budget bill, which passed the Montana House of Representatives last month, either reduced or eliminated the new law enforcement positions the governor and attorney general proposed.
“We’re still policing in Montana like it’s 1995 – and the legislature can help change that by giving us the ability to hire additional criminal investigators and Highway Patrol troopers to address the drug and crime problem plaguing communities in our state,” Attorney General Knudsen said.
He continued, “I’m grateful to Governor Gianforte for making public safety a priority this session, and I’m taking action at the Department of Justice to get the problem under control. It’s time for the legislature to do their part to ensure the safety of Montanans.”
Colonel Steve Lavin of the Montana Highway Patrol and Lee Johnson, Investigations Bureau Chief for the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, also spoke to the need for these investments.
“It has never been more important to increase the number of troopers that help keep our state safe,” Col. Lavin said. “We are hopeful that this increase in personnel will not only help combat rising violent crime and drug trafficking, but also will help our law enforcement partners and keep our citizens safe.”
Chief Johnson added, “Over the last three years we’ve seen increased violence in the types of crimes we are working with, and we’ve experienced a 45% increase in caseload, and that’s with no staffing changes whatsoever. If you look at a 10-year snapshot of officer involved shootings in Montana alone, we’ve increased over 300% compared to other time periods.”
While working with the Montana Senate to restore the administration’s investments in law enforcement, Gov. Gianforte is also partnering with the legislature to expand Montanans’ access to recovery and treatment programs.
To bolster the state’s behavioral health care system, the governor proposed a $300 million, generational investment to repair and improve services at the Montana State Hospital and expand intensive behavioral health care for communities.
During the press conference, Gov. Gianforte praised Rep. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, and Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, for leading the effort in the legislature to get the bill across the finish line.
The governor’s budget also increases by 50% funding for the HEART Fund, a program he created in his first year in office to improve access to community-based addiction treatment and recovery services for non-violent offenders, and permanently funds eight drug treatment courts.