For the Record: Attorney general candidates on DCI vacancy claims, funding priorities

On For the Record this Sunday, Naomi Kowles sat down with both candidates for attorney general in this election to get their responses to allegations from both opponents–and talk funding initiatives for their policy platforms.

Funding priorities, DOJ budget

Attorney General Josh Kaul released his biennial budget recommendations this week, which get forwarded to the governor who will make his final budget draft for legislative approval next year.

“We have a budget that is the kind of budget we need to fight crime in Wisconsin,” Kaul said. “We need to do more to invest in our communities to fight crime. And that’s exactly what this budget proposes.”

The budget includes a 10.5% increase from the last budget with funding for an additional 19 special agents and criminal analysts, 16 DNA analysts, toxicologists and other staffers, and two prosecutors. It would expand sexual assault victim services, fund a 24/7 hate crime hotline, continue funding for the Office of School Safety (for which grant money expires in 2023) and fund $5 million in officer retention and $10 million in community policing.

On For the Record, Kaul went to bat for the document he’s billed as a budget to fight crime–something his Republican opponent has frequently slammed him on.

“What we need is somebody in our attorney general’s office that the legislature trusts to deploy those resources that they can work with to help keep our community safe,” Republican opponent and Fond du Lac district attorney Eric Toney said on For the Record.

He’s seeking original prosecution authority in Milwaukee, but did not have specific statistics on how much that would cost or how many additional agents would be required. Kaul said he wants that authority statewide, a decision that would need action from the state legislature to approve.

Prosecutor, DCI agent vacancies

Throughout his campaign, Toney has touted a statistic he says he heard from DCI division director Tina Virgil at a conference, that only 88 of 113 DCI special agent positions were currently filled.

“The sad reality during this time, our attorney general has defunded DCI agents at our Department of Justice by about 18%, leaving positions unfilled,” Toney said on For the Record, later adding, “Law enforcement needs a partner that they can trust to deploy those resources working with our local law enforcement and prosecutors across Wisconsin.”

The most recent biennial state budget, however, authorizes only 87 fulltime DCI agent positions. Currently, DOJ staffers say 78 of those are full, with a recruitment class of 17 agents and other DCI staffers coming in as part of a routine surplus hiring spree.

Kaul said in a separate conversation that Virgil’s statement was taken out of context and misapplied to count for surplus roles.

“My opponent just doesn’t understand how this works,” he said on For the Record. “As attorney general, we’ve worked to fill every position that we can afford to fill at DOJ. The number of DCI agents fluctuates over time; we hire the best investigators in the state and many of them are later in their careers so we have retirements. But we hire people in waves to make sure folks are trained at the same time.”

Toney has also said that the agency’s prosecutor roles have also been left vacant. Currently, nine prosecutor positions are vacant but 13 positions are in active recruitment, according to the DOJ.

FTR: AARP Wisconsin poll finds slim leads for Republicans in top races

In a poll surveying about 1,400 likely Wisconsin voters, AARP Wisconsin found tight races with marginal leads for Republicans in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. Communications director James Flaherty joined Naomi Kowles on FTR to discuss.