Guest Opinion: Knudsen seeks to defund Department of Justice
The Billings Gazette
August 21, 2020
Career politician Austin Knudsen has been traveling Montana campaigning on one dangerous idea: defunding the Montana Department of Justice. It’s an extreme idea — regardless of political party — 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 for local law enforcement, 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 will fight 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 studying 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, cuffs, baton, radio, and put on the blue uniform. And I patrolled my community with the NYPD for four years, supporting the Department in its crime suppression efforts. To me, it meant giving back to the community the best way I could: by making it safer. I got close to my fellow officers, and learned of the stresses, sacrifice, and heartbreak that 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 Montana’s top law enforcement agency: the Montana DOJ.
These law enforcement 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 how the DOJ budget increased under Republican Attorney General Tim Fox. But the increases Knudsen attacks were for law enforcement functions: 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 — can’t obtain convictions without getting results from the Crime Lab. The Crime Lab must confirm 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 defund the Crime Lab succeeds, further delays will jeopardize criminal cases — and guilty defendants would walk free to victimize us again.
Defunding the Highway Patrol is just as dangerous. State Troopers keep Montanans safe on the road, and provide support to local law enforcement across the state. With MHP leading the charge on intercepting drug traffickers, Knudsen’s plan to defund amounts to a big “open for business” sign for hard drugs like meth — and the drug trafficking gangs that are 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 it, and we all suffer from defunding it.
Like most Montanans, I value independence over partisanship. I don’t believe we should defund 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 Department of Justice actually does.
As a county attorney, Knudsen has relied on DOJ resources, but plans to cut those very services if he’s elected to higher office. It makes no sense.
I’m running to be an independent watchdog who will keep Montana safe. I know how important public safety is to Montanans–how much it matters to our families, to the character of our 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 that we should defund the DOJ.