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Guest Column: Data-Driven, Public Safety Progress in the County Attorney's Office

As your Gallatin County Attorney and elected public servant, I believe in on-going transparency and accountability to the community.

In that respect, I’d like to update you with regard to the 113 unprosecuted sexual assault cases (52 involving children) dating back over 15 years that I discovered upon taking office. As pledged in my initial press release, I spearheaded a Joint Task Force comprised of Bozeman and Belgrade city prosecutors and detectives, the West Yellowstone and Manhattan prosecutor, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Department of Justice, and Victim Services to address this crisis. This September, the Joint Task Force completed its case assessments, and over the past 6 months, I met with victims and filed felony charges in those cases not barred by the statute of limitations. On behalf of my office, as well as the survivors and their families, I would like to sincerely thank all the dedicated public servants—law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, and other stakeholders—who came together in this herculean effort to review these sexual assault cases, connect with victims, and address this criminal justice crisis.

When I took office in January, the County Attorney’s Office was operating as a skeleton crew with critical vacancies and a massive backlog of unprosecuted cases (including another 300 unprosecuted felony cases). I’ve since recruited 24 new personnel, including prosecutors and staff members, and even drew upon Montana’s esteemed community of law students by creating a robust internship program. I recently restructured the office to incorporate a Special Crimes Chief Prosecutor who oversees the prosecution of sexual assault cases as well as cases involving violent crimes. Because these cases are especially complex, my new Chief and I are working closely with the Department of Justice to develop best practices, such as appropriate filing timelines and sentencing guidelines. Further, I applied for – and was awarded – a grant with the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA). Last week, expert prosecutors from the APA concluded a successful site visit where they will continue to work with my team, judges, law enforcement, and others to help address the backlog. With the implementation of each new initiative and policy, we further establish our office as a fierce and effective public safety leader within our community.

This month, I had the privilege of collaborating with law enforcement, victim services, and HAVEN to implement cutting-edge screening practices for domestic violence offenders at the time of arrest (and initial court appearances) to ensure victim safety, dignity, and respect. Women are the victims of violent domestic crime nearly 75% of the time – my team and I take violence against women seriously.

For the first time in its history, our office modernized from paper-based to electronic systems which integrate with law enforcement’s electronic discovery records and e-filing in the court. This speeds up case processing, ensuring swifter justice and that victims’ needs are quickly ad-dressed. My office has also begun incorporating data-driven, evidence-based practices, including recommending bail and bond conditions based on proven national best practices. Crime rates in Gallatin County have dropped significantly since 2022 and I will continue to uphold this trend by working closely with law enforcement and county and local governments to ensure Gallatin County becomes an even safer, more caring place to live, work, and go to school.

It has been non-stop, pedal to the metal since I took office in January, and these are but a few examples of the issues my office has systematically and earnestly addressed. The largest, inherited deficit has proven to be staffing: even with recent hires, my prosecutors are still shouldering unsustainable caseloads for a county our size. To this end, I will both continue to advocate for more prosecutor positions and do everything in my power to find creative solutions to support my team with grant funding, internship programs (including partnerships with military/veteran apprenticeship programs), and other recruiting and retention initiatives.

This year has been intense and challenging, but I am incredibly proud of my team as we push through these initial growing pains to make the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office a gold standard leader in public safety. Thank you for your continued trust in me as we work together to build a brighter, safer, and more just future for Gallatin County!

Audrey Cromwell is the newly elected Gallatin County Attorney.