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2024 Montana Primary elections

U.S. Attorney says feds lack resources for law enforcement on the Flathead Reservation

For decades, Lake County has overseen felony jurisdiction on the Flathead Reservation as part of a long-standing agreement. But commissioners said the county can no longer afford it and wants to pull out.

That would pass jurisdiction to the state, but Gov. Greg Gianforte said the state is also pulling out of the agreement.

That means the federal government would take over, but Montana U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said federal agencies are already stretched.

"And we know for a certainty at this point that it will be worse in the short term from a resource perspective in holding people accountable,” Laslovich said.

He said his office would only be able to prosecute bigger cases that impact a large number of people, like large drug distribution or sex trafficking. Lower-level felony offenses might go unchecked.

“That’s an unacceptable consequence,” County Commissioner Gale Decker said.

Decker said it costs about $4 million to provide law enforcement services on the reservation.

“If we have to stay in it just for public safety concerns, then we’ll have to make decisions about where we can find extra money,” Decker said.

Decker said that could come in the form of budget cuts, staff layoffs or asking voters to approve a levy.

If Lake County continues with its plan to pull out of the agreement, the federal government would take over May 21.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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