McGrath: Budget Cuts Will Affect Public Safety
HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath on Tuesday said that the budget cuts imposed by last week’s special session will have a serious impact on public safety in Montana.
McGrath noted that last week’s budget reductions came on top of cuts already made by the Governor in July and by the legislature in the last regular session, adding up to serious budget problems for the Department of Justice.
Between the cuts made by the Governor and the special session, the department’s general fund budget has been cut almost a million dollars a year, or approximately 5.5 percent.
“The combined cuts have hit our funding for staff positions even harder,” McGrath explained. “A seven percent cut in general fund for staff effectively reduces our ability to hire the criminal investigators, forensic scientists and attorneys we need to assist local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors who need our help with complex or unusually difficult cases.”
“Department-wide, Justice will have to leave vacant at least 42 staff positions in these critical areas,” McGrath concluded. “And that’s not going to be easy. The number of requests we get for assistance is climbing every year, particularly with the sharp increase in the number of methamphetamine labs operating in Montana.”
As an example of what his department does, the attorney general cited the January 2001 request from the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney’s Office for assistance in the investigation and prosecution of the drug-related homicide of 17-year-old Steve Berry in Glendive.
- Two forensic scientists from the Lab in Missoula assisted in analyzing the various crime scenes where the victim was kidnapped, shot and his body hidden and later, burned.
- Two Division of Criminal Investigators (DCI) worked with local officers to gather evidence, interview witnesses and suspects, and execute search warrants.
- Two County Prosecution Services attorneys are assisting in prosecuting the main defendant, 21-year-old Lance Deines. Six other defendants have pleaded guilty.
- And DCI Narcotics agents are assisting local law enforcement in curtailing the area’s drug problem.
Since the vast majority of these Department of Justice staff positions are funded from the state’s general fund, reductions in that funding substantially reduce the department’s ability to fill vacant positions in these fields.