Pawlenty's meth registry: Good policy or a gimmick?

Gov. Pawlenty
Gov. Pawlenty announced a plan to set up a registry for meth offenders, so state and local officials can keep closer track of their whereabouts.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

Pawlenty signed a sweeping meth bill in 2005 cracking down on manufacturers of the drug, and restricting the sale of cold medicines used to make meth. The Republican governor says that's resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of meth labs in the state.

Now Pawlenty says the state should post the names and offenses of people who make or sell meth on a Web site, similar to the state's registry of convicted sex offenders.

Mike Hatch
Attorney General Mike Hatch, DFL candidate for governor, called Gov. Pawlenty's proposal for a meth offender registry a gimmick.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

"When you have public awareness of the presence of these individuals, there will be further accountability by neighbors, by people who are interested in making sure that their areas of work or residence are safe," Pawlenty said.

The registry won't list offenders' addresses, only the county where the meth offense took place. Pawlenty says the Web site will eventually include photos of offenders.

He says the Minnesota registry will be modeled after one in Tennessee, which lists more than 400 convicted meth offenders. It's run by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The bureau's communications director, Jennifer Johnson, says the Tennessee Web site has received nearly half a million hits since it began operating last December.

Johnson says the registry was prompted by landlords worried about tenants destroying their property, and citizens concerned about neighbors who might be running meth labs.

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"There was a real public outcry from people who wanted a registry, so that they could know who in their neighborhood had been convicted of manufacturing meth," said Johnson. "And that's really why we launched this, was so people could look at that, find out who these individuals were."

Crystal meth
A bag of crystal meth.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Johnson says the registry wasn't designed as a deterrent. She says people who are so addicted to meth that they expose their children to the drug's dangers probably wouldn't quit just because of a Web site.

One of Gov. Pawlenty's political rivals, DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch, blasted the meth offender registry. Hatch says it will become the "Simon Delivers" for meth addicts looking for a dealer -- referring to the online grocery service.

"If you're a meth addict, what are you going to do? What better place to find a meth dealer than on an Internet Web site," said Hatch.

Hatch, the state's attorney general, says Pawlenty continues to propose political gimmicks, instead of funding more police officers to fight meth.

"You gotta have cops on the ground. You've got the city of Minneapolis -- they got 150 cops less than what they should have, St. Paul's got 50 cops less," Hatch said. "I go out there in the rural communities, they're facing it front-line on this meth problem."

Hatch has called for as many as 1,000 new police officers around the state, and blames Pawlenty's cuts in local government aid for fewer cops and rising crime rates.

Pawlenty points out that the state funded 10 new BCA agents to fight meth in last year's legislation. Three are now deployed in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and one each in Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Moorhead and Willmar.

Pawlenty says Minnesota state troopers have also been trained to better detect meth coming into Minnesota on the state's highways. Democrats point out that the training is funded by the federal government, not the state.