Minnesota House Democrats beef up plan to fight rising crime

Chris Wicklund
Burnsville Police Department Sgt. Chris Wicklund wears a camera beneath his microphone in November 2014. A public safety package proposed by House Democrats includes $15 million so that law enforcement agencies across the state would be able to afford body cameras for every officer to promote accountability.
Jim Mone | AP Photo 2014

The Minnesota House Democratic majority beefed up its public safety package with $50 million in extra money Thursday and called on Republicans who control the Senate to work with them to fight rising crime, one of the top issues for this year's election campaign.

The extra money, on top of the Democrats' original $100 million proposal, would go mostly toward grants to the 20 cities and 20 counties with the highest crime rates, or fastest-growing rates. They could use it to finance “innovative public safety solutions" that they design to meet their own needs.

The bill also includes $15 million so that law enforcement agencies across the state would be able to afford body cameras for every officer to promote accountability. Body camera footage was key evidence in the trials of four former Minneapolis police officers in the murder of George Floyd.

Crime has been shaping up as one of the top issues for Campaign 2022, in which control of the narrowly divided House and Senate and the governor's office will be up for grabs, with Republicans targeting worried suburban voters.

The bill's chief author, Rep. Cedrick Frazier, of New Hope, said the money would help local officials, police chiefs, prosecutors and community groups team up against rising violence. The plan also includes funding to help recruit and retain officers, while better training them on the proper use of force, the duty to intervene and conflict de-escalation.

“Our Republican colleagues constantly parrot that crime is a problem in big Democratic cities. That tactic is predictable as it is tiresome," Frazier said at a news conference, pointing at a map of the the state that showed the counties with the highest crime rates and fastest crime growth are scattered all across Minnesota.

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Municipalities, counties and tribal governments would apply for the grants in partnership with community groups and would have six years to spend the money, he said.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said the grant approach would promote investments in alternative strategies and strengthen partnerships between community groups and law enforcement.

“It's not the same old approach to crime and community-building,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, who chairs the House Public Safety committee, which approved it 11-8. “It commits the state to powerful new ways to drive innovation in public safety, not just wait until harm is done, and not just throw money at old things as the Senate Republican majority will once again have us do.”

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, meanwhile, has been touring the state to promote his own $300 million public safety proposal. The Senate Democratic minority earlier this week made its own call for Senate Republicans to take more effective action to fight crime, unveiling a $500 million package aimed at both stopping crime now and innovations to prevent crime going forward.

But the chief Senate gatekeeper on public safety issues, Judiciary Chairperson Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, said his panel has already heard numerous bills this session to hold criminals, judges and prosecutors accountable. Many reflect the traditional GOP approach of tougher sentences.

“We've been hearing bills all session and it's kind of funny that the critics are the very ones that just introduced their ‘powerhouse’ bills,” Limmer said in an interview Tuesday.

Rep. Brian Johnson, of Cambridge, the lead Republican on the House Public Safety Committee, blamed the House Democratic majority for stalling progress.

"None of their proposals would do anything to strengthen accountability for repeat violent criminals or the judges and prosecutors who are handing out light sentences that are putting dangerous individuals back on the streets and endangering the lives of Minnesotans,” Johnson said in a statement.

Frazier said discussions with senators and stakeholders including law enforcement are ongoing.

“We're hopeful that we will be able to find a way to some common ground to get something done this session for Minnesotans,” he said.