By Steve Schuster
Both Republican and Democrat Wisconsin officials stood in solidarity Tuesday advocating for additional funds for Wisconsin’s Crime Labs. The Criminal Justice Coalition gathered in Madison Tuesday afternoon expressing support for the Wisconsin Department of Justice‘s budget increase request.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul requested additional funds to support the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories.
“We think there are critical investments that need to be made in the criminal justice system in Wisconsin,” Kaul said during Tuesday’s event.
The fund increase for the crime lab would pay for 10 additional DNA analysts, four additional toxicologists, and two additional Crime Scene Response Unit members.
The Criminal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the State Public Defender’s Office, Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association, Association of State Prosecutors, Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) and the State Court’s Office.
Fond Du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney who is President of the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association supported Kaul’s proposal during Tuesday’s press conference.
“There is no doubt that the crime labs in Wisconsin are critical to public safety,” Toney said.
“From a prosecutor’s perspective, we would love to see additional resources to our state crime labs especially when we talk about the toxicology and we look at drunk driving as an increasing concern here in Wisconsin. We normally get ethanol results back relatively in short order, but when looking at those drug panels it does take longer and we would love to see additional toxicologists that can help drive down that turnaround time for the drunk driving cases, whether it be fentanyl, marijuana, cocaine, metabolites, prosecutors would greatly benefit from that as well as law enforcement,” Toney said, noting that “crime labs help us secure justice and they also help vindicate the innocent.”
Kaul said he wants to work together with public defenders too.
“The justice system is exactly that. It’s a system. In making sure each of the components, parts of the system are funded helps ensure that justice can happen efficiently and that our communities are kept as safe as possible,” Kaul added.
As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, officials also gathered May 1, 2023 at the Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center in the greater Madison area to educate the public on the work the agency does and to make a case for an increase in the state’s budget to hire additional agents and analysts.
The Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center (WSIC), located in the Madison area, is operated by the Wisconsin Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), and is one of two fusion centers in Wisconsin. WSIC serves as the primary focal point for threat information sharing among federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement, emergency management, fire service, public health, corrections, military, and private sector partners for the majority of Wisconsin.
In order to continue keeping Wisconsinites and the nation safe, DCI is requesting for additional resources in the upcoming state budget.
Previously, Kaul said he is requesting funds to hire 19 new special agents and criminal analysts to bolster the services DCI provides.
Kaul also previously said WSIC works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement.
WSIC accomplishes the following mission-essential tasks:
Elected officials across both political aisles have told the Wisconsin Law Journal they support Kaul’s request.
Republican Sen. Van H. Wanggaard’s Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel Scott Kelly told the Wisconsin Law Journal in May that their office has had “productive conversations with Attorney General Kaul” about providing funds necessary to hire additional DCI agents.
Democrat Sen. Kelda Roys also told the Wisconsin Law Journal in May that “Public safety is a priority for our state and that is why Attorney General Kaul and Gov. Evers put forth a budget with smart investments to protect the public and increase safety.”
Despite Wisconsin’s $6.6 billion surplus, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos previously said a budget increase to fund more DCI agents is “possible,” but if he had to choose between increasing salaries for funding more DCI agents or District Attorneys, he would fund an increase in ADA salaries.
During a Milwaukee Press Club Event, the Wisconsin Law Journal asked Vos: Given law students are graduating with significant student loan debt and are taking on serious cases as ADA’s, does he support increasing the current wages for Assistant District Attorneys.
In response, Vos said he supports raising the current starting wage of $27.24 per hour that Wisconsin Assistant District Attorneys currently earn.
As previously reported by The Wisconsin Law Journal in March, Wisconsin is on the brink of a constitutional crisis, as courts face unprecedented District Attorney and Public Defender shortages across the state.
Republican Sen. André Jacque said he too supports the increase during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal back in March.
“It’s certainly an issue with our criminal justice system in terms of having adequate resources. I think there is pretty broad support for addressing the overall needs of the court system,” Jacque said.
This story has been updated.