Dem AG Josh Kaul says he hopes Republicans will live up to their campaign promises to improve public safety as he focuses on increased funding for community policing, violence prevention, mental health services and other resources.

Kaul in an interview with WisPolitics.com said the newly projected $6.6 billion budget surplus provides a “once-in-a generation opportunity.” In all, Kaul wants $95.7 million more in general purpose revenue and 67 more positions.

“And I’m hopeful that we will see Republicans in the Legislature live up to what they were talking about on the campaign, and make the kinds of investments with this budget surplus that will make our communities safer,” Kaul said.

He said he hasn’t yet met with lawmakers to discuss increasing funding for DOJ, but added he plans to soon. Increasing shared revenue so local governments can improve their public safety resources is also a top priority.

More emergency detention funding would also help local police, he said.

Emergency detention allows police to take into custody people who present a danger to themselves or others for 72 hours before a hearing is held. Wisconsin only has one emergency detention facility, located in Winnebago County.

“Now, there are some private hospitals that accept people also,” he said. “But the process is not consistent, and it’s also one where often officers are left driving several hours to help with emergency detention.”

More funding in that area would improve care for those detained and free up police to focus on other issues, he added.

He also wants the Legislature to increase the size of DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation to help address rising violent crime, adding the department has lacked funding for decades. DOJ’s 2023-25 budget asks for 19 more DCI special agents and criminal analysts.

“There’s been underinvestment in public safety in Wisconsin for decades,” he said. “And there have been some significant achievements the last few years, like the addition of about 70 additional prosecutors, but the system needed investment anyway.”

During the election, DOJ reported it had seen a 400 percent increase in tips sent to its Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force since 2013 – a trend he sees continuing. Some of the additional DCI positions he’s requesting would likely work on those crimes, Kaul said.

GOP Fond du Lac County DA Eric Toney ahead of the November election he lost challenging Kaul charged the Dem ag with allowing a backlog of more than 1,000 ICAC tips.

Kaul also said he’s requesting 16 more employees to boost state crime lab numbers after 2021 showed crime lab’s DNA, gun, controlled substance and other evidence processing turnaround times were up from GOP former AG Brad Schimel in 2018.

“I think everybody agrees about the importance of the state crime lab,” he said. “So getting the Legislature to provide the funding that we’ve requested would be a step in the right direction. In the past four years, I believe a little under half of the positions we requested.”

He added he’s mostly focused on reducing the number of cases awaiting DNA testing.

According to an agency report from April, the state’s labs took in 3,612 cases for DNA analysis in 2021 and completed 3,526. The average time to turn around a case was 128 days.

In 2020, the labs took in 3,820 cases, processed 3,144 and had an average turnaround of 94 days.

The caseload for both years was lower than 2018, the year before Kaul took office.

Kaul said DNA turnaround times are higher now because that testing now involves probabilistic genome testing.

“That means that an individual case takes longer, but it also makes it more likely that we get results, and so we can solve more cases,” he said.

Kaul is also still confident his lawsuit seeking to make Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban unenforceable will succeed. But if it doesn’t, he said there are other possibilities.

“Right now our focus is on what we’re doing,” he said. “But I certainly think it’s possible that you would see other lawsuits, not necessarily cases filed by DOJ, but you could see potentially private groups or others filing challenges.”

Even so, Kaul said he wants the Legislature to take action “very quickly by just repealing the 19th century ban.”

Kaul also renewed his calls for the Legislature to help reduce gun violence by passing red flag laws and universal background checks for gun purchases. Wisconsin currently does not require a background check for any private gun sales, and GOP lawmakers have rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ calls to pass a red flag law or expand background checks, arguing they would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“I mean, you can literally sell a gun out of the trunk of your car to somebody without having a background check conducted right now,” he said.

Updating state law to bar those convicted of disorderly conduct when the underlying conduct was domestic violence from having guns is one area he’s hopeful Republicans and Dems can come together on, he said.

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