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2024 Montana Primary elections

Attorney General: Governor may help with law enforcement funding in Lake County

Satellite view of Flathead Lake in western Montana.
Copernicus Sentinel data 2018 for Sentinel data
Satellite view of Flathead Lake in western Montana.

Lake County commissioners may reconsider whether to pull out of an agreement to provide law enforcement services on the Flathead Reservation. This comes after county officials met with Attorney General Austin Knudsen in Polson to see if his office can offer resources for prosecuting crimes.

On May 21, jurisdiction over felonies on the Flathead Reservation will fall to the federal government. That’s because Lake County is pulling out of a long-standing agreement between the state and the federal government to provide those services. County officials say they can’t afford it.

But federal law enforcement officials have said they have little resources to offer the county and would only prosecute high-level felony crimes. County officials and residents worry many crimes would be left unchecked.

Knudsen told commissioners he has neither the resources nor authority to help oversee felony jurisdiction. But Knudsen did say Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office may be willing to help.

“I’ve been told directly they are willing to sign a bill next session that gets you folks some law enforcement funding,” Knudsen said.

Lawmakers did pass a bill to do just that in 2023, but Gianforte vetoed it.

When asked for comment, Gianforte’s office pointed MTPR to his veto letter saying the bill created a “slippery slope” by not putting any conditions on the $5 million the bill would have provided the county. His office did not directly say whether he’d sign future legislation to fund Lake County law enforcement.

Lake County Commissioner Gale Decker says it’s hard to trust Knudsen’s message given the governor’s previous veto. But he says commissioners are considering whether to keep jailing and prosecuting people for felony crimes based on what Knudsen said.

If we can get everybody to the table, I think there’s a solution,” Decker said.

It’s unclear when commissioners will make that decision.

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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