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Crime becoming a hot issue in 5th District race

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Sheriff endorses Erlandson
Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan (right), a Republican, is endorsing DFLer Mike Erlandson in the 5th Congressional District. McGowan portrays the endorsed candidate, Keith Ellison, as soft on crime.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Like many of the other Democrats running in the 5th, Mike Erlandson says he wants to add 150 more police officers on the streets of Minneapolis. 

He says Minneapolis and other communities were forced to cut police officers in recent years because of federal cuts to the Clinton Cops program. Erlandson says he'd like to restore that funding. He says Minneapolis has seen an uptick in crime because there aren't enough officers on the street.

Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison says he doesn't believe the only solution to crime is locking more offenders behind bars. He says that's why he also favors more drug treatment and jobs programs.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"With violent crime up, with all types of crime up, with 39 individuals already murdered here in Minneapolis, 50 percent of the congressional district, we need to ask all levels of government to do more -- from the city to the county to the state to the federal government," said Erlandson.

Erlandson says he'd pay for the added cops by cutting other programs. He mentioned eliminating federal jobs and cutting wasteful spending in the Department of Homeland Security as some examples. Erlandson is also calling for background checks for all gun purchases. 

Erlandson received support from a Republican, Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan. 

McGowan, a former state senator, says he's endorsing someone from another party because he doesn't think a Republican could win in the the heavily Democratic 5th. McGowan praised Erlandson for his work on public safety while serving as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring. 

Paul Ostrow
Minneapolis city councilmember Paul Ostrow claims he is the DFL candidate in the race to pay attention to the crime issue before the others.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

McGowan said Erlandson, not State Rep. Keith Ellison, is the best candidate on public safety issues. McGowan sharply criticized Ellison, the DFL-endorsed candidate.

"He's never been a supporter of law enforcement in the state Legislature. He's never been a supporter of law enforcement locally. He's the first one out to criticize law enforcement, and has never been a friend of law enforcement, and never will be," McGowan said. "There's a big difference in saying what you're going to do and doing what you say. I think the best indicator of future performance is past behavior."

Ellison disputes McGowan's criticism. As a state lawmaker, Ellison says he worked to restore cuts in aid to local governments, so cities could hire more police officers. He says he also proposed tougher penalties for sex offenders and people who make methamphetamine. 

Ellison says he's being portrayed as soft on crime because he wants more money for drug and alcohol treatment. 

Ember Reichgott Junge
DFLer Ember Reichgott Junge gets support from the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, which says Junge fought for public safety issues while she served in the state Senate.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of every crime problem. Part of the problem is drug treatment. Part of the problem is offender re-entry into society. Part of the problem is making sure that there's an adequate youth summer jobs base, and I've been a part of that too," Ellison said. "I think when you try to deal with some of the root causes of crime, some of the people who have old thinking on crime control just don't understand it."

Ellison is also proposing greater restrictions on gun sales and more money for police officers. He says ending the war in Iraq will help pay for more domestic programs. 

Minneapolis City Councilman Paul Ostrow says he's glad the other candidates are talking about public safety. He criticized Erlandson for waiting so long to discuss the issue. 

"It appears that he has, in many ways, endorsed my plan, and I'm glad that he would endorse it," said Ostrow. "But I think it's important that voters look at who has led on this issue. In the campaign, I'm the one who has taken the lead on this issue."

Former State Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge says she's the best public safety candidate, and points to her endorsement by the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police. The organization is not a union. 

President Gary Cayo says Reichgott Junge was willing to work with his group as a state lawmaker, and is willing to address some of the concerns facing police officers nationwide. They include contract negotiations and a bill to protect police officers when allegations of misconduct are made. 

"Other states don't have the right to bargain for their contracts, and that's a big issue, and it's an issue she's with us on," said Cayo. "Another issue is the officers' bill of rights. We have it here in Minnesota, but we want to make it on a national plan because a lot of other states don't have as good of working conditions as the officers in Minnesota do."

There are seven DFLers running in the Sept. 12  primary. The winner will face Republican Alan Fine, Independence Party Candidate Tammy Lee and Green Party Candidate Jay Pond in the November election.