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$100M Minnesota DFL plan emphasizes 'community' approach to violent crime

The DFL proposal’s emphasis on a “community-centered” response to violence that includes proposed funding for restorative justice and social service centers stands in contrast to Republican public safety proposals for this session, which include harsher sentences for certain offenses.

Minnesota Capitol. Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — A $100 million public safety budget proposal announced Monday, Jan. 24, by Democratic-Farmer-Labor members of the Minnesota House prioritizes funding for community nonprofits that seek to address the causes of violent crime.

Under the proposal, $40 million in proposed spending could be used for community safety grants to fund programs ranging from substance abuse and mental health treatment to counseling and educational support for juvenile offenders. It also calls for $22 million each for grants to support local community policing and expanding crime investigation resources.

Other items include $10 million in grants for opioid addiction epidemic response, $2.5 million for body camera grants and $450,000 to add four new investigators to the state board that investigates officer misconduct. DFL House members also propose $50,000 in funding for a task board to help address the growth in unfilled law enforcement positions by exploring new pathways into the profession.

The public safety bill’s chief author, Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said more funding for community policing will help law enforcement build trust with the communities they patrol and help them obtain more information that will help in the prosecution of crime.

Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, who is a prosecutor, said the proposed funding for programs aimed at community policing and social services is key in targeting the roots of crime.

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Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview.jpg
Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview
Paul Battaglia

“Without trust in a system, victims don’t report crime, witnesses don’t come forward or testify and juries may disbelieve investigators and other experts,” Moller told reporters at a Monday news conference announcing the DFL proposal. “Rep. Frazier’s bill, especially the innovation and community safety grants, helps to both reduce crime and rebuild that vital trust that is vital for the criminal justice system to work.”

Frazier said more funding for community policing will help law enforcement build trust with the communities they patrol

“Community confidence in law enforcement is part of this bill because its vital to ensuring that police are able to gather intelligence from community members,” he said.

DFLers and Republican lawmakers said they both plan to make addressing a surge in violent crime a priority in the 2022 legislative session. Following a national trend, Minnesota saw a rise in violent crime during the pandemic, with a 17% increase in 2020, according to the Department of Public Safety. Murders statewide reached a number not seen since the 1990s.

The DFL proposal’s emphasis on a “community-centered” response to violence that includes proposed funding for restorative justice and social service centers stands in contrast to Republican public safety proposals for this session, which include harsher sentences for certain offenses. Any public safety bill that eventually ends up on Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s desk will likely be the product of compromise between the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.

Minnesota Senate Republican leadership on Monday criticized the DFL proposal’s emphasis on preventing crime through community nonprofits.

“Senate Republicans will make communities safer by funding more police officers, holding violent criminals accountable for their actions, and ensuring victims receive the justice they deserve,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona. “It’s good to hear Democrats finally talking about crime, and nonprofits and volunteers are amazing resources, but they aren’t equipped to address the high levels of violent crime we’re seeing in Minnesota."

Senate Republicans said they’ll highlight their session priorities later this week, including specific details on public safety proposals.

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Republican lawmakers said they plan to introduce proposals to set mandatory minimum penalties for carjacking ranging anywhere from two to six years, as well as for repeat offenses with a firearm. In addition to stiffer sentencing, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Gull Lake, and Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said they support using part of the state’s $7.7 billion surplus to support signing bonuses to new officers in areas affected by high crime.

“There are many problems confronting Minnesotans but the No. 1 problem is the rise of violence and property crime in the Twin Cities,” Gazelka said at a news conference on how Republican legislators plan to address violent crime in the state.

Gazelka is running for Minnesota governor and seeking his party’s endorsement in the race.

The 2022 legislative session will begin Monday, Jan. 31. The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee is set to hold hearings on the DFL proposal the first week of the session.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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