Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Knudsen’s plan to defund DOJ dangerous

by Raph Graybill
| September 6, 2020 12:00 AM

Career politician Austin Knudsen is traveling Montana campaigning on one dangerous idea: defunding the Montana Department of Justice. It’s an extreme idea and will make Montana less prosperous and less safe.

Knudsen’s plan would take State Troopers off the road, remove narcotics and major crimes special agents from cases, and wreak havoc at the Crime Lab–making drug trafficking prosecutions impossible and risking delays that could let violent criminals walk free. It would be a disaster for public safety.

I’m running for Attorney General to be an independent watchdog who fights for Montana families. I am a fifth-generation Montanan from Great Falls, and grew up with a deep respect for our law enforcement community. It’s a community I know as my own friends, mentors, and neighbors.

That respect and admiration led me to join the NYPD while I was in college. I joined as an Auxiliary Police Officer and completed sixteen weeks of training on ethics, law, and public safety. I was issued a bulletproof vest and wore the blue uniform. I patrolled my community with the NYPD–supporting their crime prevention efforts and giving back to my community by helping make it safer. I became close with my fellow officers, and learned of the stresses, sacrifice, and heartbreak law enforcement work imposes on them and their families.

So I was shocked to see my opponent, running for the state’s top law enforcement job, has spent the last year promising to defund the Montana DOJ.

DOJ’s services are essential for the safety of Montanans. We defund them at our own peril.

Knudsen’s been asked which programs he’ll defund, but won’t come up with an answer–just talking points about the DOJ increases under Attorney General Tim Fox. But the increases Knudsen attacks were for law enforcement: the Highway Patrol, the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, and the Crime Lab.

The State Crime Lab is crucial to our criminal justice system. Sheriffs, police departments, and county attorneys–like Knudsen–need results from the Crime Lab to obtain convictions. The Crime Lab confirms evidence in cases ranging from meth trafficking to rape or murder. But there are delays on drug tests and rape kits because the Montana Legislature, which Knudsen led, starved the Crime Lab of funding.

If Knudsen’s plan to further defund the Crime Lab succeeds, delays will jeopardize criminal cases–and guilty defendants would walk free to victimize us again.

Defunding the Highway Patrol is extremely dangerous. State Troopers keep Montanans safe on the road and provide support to local law enforcement. MHP intercepts drug traffickers and Knudsen’s plan to defund would amount to a big “open for business” sign for hard drugs and the drug trafficking gangs destroying Montana lives and families.

Finally, the Montana Law Enforcement Academy is crucial for supporting law enforcement and the criminal justice system across Montana by training new peace officers to the highest standards. We all benefit from highly trained officers.

I value independence over partisanship. I don’t believe we should eliminate our police departments. Like many in law enforcement, I also understand prison time is not our only tool—especially for Montanans who struggle with addiction or mental health issues. I’m shocked someone running for Attorney General seems to have so little appreciation for what the Montana DOJ actually does.

I’m running to be an independent watchdog who will keep Montana safe. I know how important public safety is and how much it matters to our families, communities, and to our economy. I’ll work with anyone, Republicans or Democrats, to forge creative solutions to make Montana safer. But unlike Knudsen, I reject the idea we should defund the DOJ.

Raph Graybill is Democratic Candidate for Attorney General.