By Kristen Pabst
Missoula County Attorney 

County Attorney's Office 2019 snapshot

The County Voice

 

February 13, 2020

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Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney

2019 was a busy year for both the civil and criminal divisions of the Missoula County Attorney's Office. On Jan. 1, I began my second four-year term as the chief elected prosecutor. Throughout the year, we continued to focus on improving our response to victims of crime, increasing the efficiency of the criminal justice system through innovative programs and working together with our justice partners to bring dangerous offenders to justice.

Our criminal division consists of our Special Victims, General Crimes and Juvenile units and Justice Court and includes 13 prosecutors, three litigation paralegals, two discovery paralegals, two victim witness coordinators, three administrative assistants, an investigator, a full-time supervisor who also carries a caseload, a diversion coordinator and two clinical students.

Crime numbers have dropped in almost every category after a surge in 2018. We filed 17 fewer felonies and nine fewer juvenile petitions than the previous year. Between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 violent crime (homicide, robbery and aggravated assault reports combined) declined 18.5 percent in Missoula County compared to the previous 12 months. Since then, those cases have declined another 11.9 percent.


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Methamphetamine continues to be a major crime-driver in our region. Consistent with our observations, new studies confirm a definite link between meth use and violent crime. Meth users are more likely than non-users to perpetrate domestic violence and nine times more likely to commit homicide.

We are seeing a much-welcomed decline in child protection cases since a peak in 2017 and a continued overall decline in the number of filings over the past several years. In 2019, we filed a total of 109, down from 118 the previous year. The primary causes of abuse and neglect of children in our community include parental substance abuse, specifically methamphetamine addiction; exposure of children to dangerous drugs and/or the exposure of children to intimate partner violence. The child's health and safety are of paramount concern in every child protection case.

We filed fewer petitions for involuntary commitment in 2019 than the previous year, but still more than normal. In 2018, we saw a huge spike in involuntary commitments, partially in response to loss in community case management services. Thankfully, our commitment numbers are starting to decline again, as services become more available to those in crisis. Petitions to commit people experiencing homelessness increased 10 percent since 2018, totaling 40 percent of our overall cases.


Our prosecution-led diversion program "Calibrate" is the first formal pre-trial diversion docket in the state and works with low-risk offenders to keep them out of the court system, allowing us to focus our resources on violent criminals. We continue with other reform efforts, including criminal mediation, conviction review and pretrial supervision in lieu of detention and are proud to partner with the U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement teams on the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.

The County Attorney's Secondary Trauma Program was recently featured in The National Prosecutors' Consortium and The Prosecutor, the magazine of the National District Attorneys Association.

 

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