Crime in the crosshairs as Minnesota’s top legislative campaign target
Minnesota lawmakers returning to the Capitol on Monday will speed up a debate on crime that is already stirring high partisan tensions in the context of an election year.
A persistent increase in violence in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and beyond has prompted Republicans to propose new tough-on-crime legislation and demand more money for community policing and restorative justice from Democrats. . Both sides identify crime as a top priority this session, but with statewide offices and control of the Capitol up for grabs in November, the topic is quickly becoming a platform for launching attacks across the world. aisle.
“This moment requires new solutions, not old policies,” said State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the $100 million public safety budget proposal. the DFL Chamber this year.
The upsurge in carjackings and homicides prompted the Senate to propose to the GOP to impose tougher sentencing laws and prosecute minors as adults in some cases. Republicans also want to open grants to recruit new officers into the profession.
Senator Paul Gazelka, an East Gull Lake Republican gubernatorial candidate, used a recent press conference outlining his public safety proposals as an opportunity to blame the state’s crime woes on the DFL governor. , Tim Walz. Gazelka drew a distinction between young people who commit carjackings and robberies and what he described as inadequate law enforcement support and “misconceptions by some in the legal process.”
“Clearly Governor Walz was totally deaf to the cries of crime victims,” said Gazelka, who at one point referred to the young carjackers as “those kids of Tim Walz.”
Walz last week proposed his own public safety program for 2022, including $300 million over three years for local governments and tribes for public safety needs. The governor’s plan includes retention incentives for law enforcement, funding for student loans and an advertising campaign to attract more potential officers.
“It’s not enough to wring your hands and say it’s wrong to have a crime,” Walz said. “Of course, that’s unacceptable. Victims of crime at all levels deserve better. But just saying that and not using proven data and proven ways to do it doesn’t get us there.”
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington defended Walz’s proposal as “the most comprehensive approach to crime reduction” he had seen in his nearly five decades in the field.
Walz and DFL House want a holistic approach to tackling crime. Their plans include money for community policing initiatives, nonprofits working on violence prevention, new crime analysts and opioid epidemic response measures.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, want to impose mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders, repeal the five-year cap on probation and order county prosecutors to provide data on felony cases they refuse to charge.
Warren Limmer, the Republican from Maple Grove who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, is taking a close look at sentencing laws this session. This includes a bill requiring Senate confirmation of members of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission and a “Crime Interruption Bill” that would impose consecutive sentences for multiple convictions.
“We intend to remember the victims before developing policy,” Limmer said.
Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police, said a top priority on his group’s agenda this year is legislation requiring more data from prosecutors who refuse to charge certain people. crimes. He also wants to see grants for body cameras for police departments, noting that more than half of state departments still don’t have the technology.
“Law enforcement has to try to figure out how to keep communities safe,” Potts said. “There has been a lot of focus on reform over the past two sessions. You can look for ways to make additional reforms and make things better while supporting law enforcement. It is not it has to be one or the other.”
In the DFL-controlled House, Frazier became a key criminal justice negotiator in his freshman year in 2021. He soon became vice-chairman of the public safety and criminal justice reform committee of the Bedroom. Its president, Representative Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, is retiring after this session.
This year’s focus on crime marks a dramatic departure from the talks on police reform that have dominated much of the past two sessions. But for Frazier, police reform and violent crime response policies are closely linked.
“I believe we need to start treating community trust like the law enforcement intelligence asset that it is,” Frazier said. “The effort to deal with the increase in crime cannot be separated from the effort to ensure transparency and accountability. Which helps build trust, which leads to cooperation during investigative processes . Which leads to solving crimes.”
Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, who chairs the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, is among those concerned that politics will interfere with lawmakers agreeing on solutions to the root causes of the crime wave.
“It feels like when we’re making policy, we’re constantly looking at what’s effective and what’s efficient and what the data says,” McCarthy said. “But when we talk about crime – because fear is such a universal motivator – we tend to throw that out the window.”
Michelle Phelps, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, also shares fears that this year’s public safety policy debate could end in a stalemate.
“I think the place where we could really go wrong is what we’ve seen since at least the 1970s – those times when people are very concerned about crime, our impulse at the legislative level is to think that our response to this is that we need to have more police, more prosecutors and more imprisonment,” she said.
Crime is already at the center of the race for the attorney general, an office historically best known for handling consumer protection cases. Republican candidates are already accusing DFL incumbent Keith Ellison of not doing enough to tackle violent crime in the Twin Cities.
Ellison points out that he was rebuffed by the state Senate when he asked for more prosecutors for his office. And like his DFL colleagues in the House and the governor’s office, Ellison also suggests that the work being done on the state’s opioid epidemic response and housing availability has been an important tool in preventing crime. in the first place.
“We need to have a comprehensive approach to public safety,” Ellison said in an interview. “It means dealing with people who commit crimes. But it also means we have to address the anxieties that sometimes drive people to act criminally.”