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DFL police recruiting bill hits snag after key chairman left out of process

A Tuesday hearing for a bill aimed at attracting new officers to relieve shortages was canceled after apparent disagreement among DFL lawmakers.

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House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, joined by Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges, right, and DFL lawmakers, present legislation Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, to attract and retain new law enforcement officers.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Democrats hoping to fund a training program aimed at attracting and training officers of "good moral character" has had a setback after a key committee leader said he was not included in bringing the bill forward.

Training bill author House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, announced the recruitment proposal at a Monday, Feb. 21, news conference with fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers. Absent from the news conference were House public safety committee Chair Carlos Mariani and Vice Chair Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope.

The two representatives have been central in moving the Democrats' public safety and criminal justice reform agenda forward in the House.

Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat, told the Minnesota Reformer he thought the bill contained good ideas but was confused as to why fellow DFLers did not include him in the process , saying it didn't "smell right." A hearing for the bill scheduled for the Higher Education Committee Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 22, was canceled amid the apparent internal disagreement.

The legislation calls for $13 million to establish an expedited peace officer training program, $2.6 million for scholarships and $800,000 for outreach. Programs would be run through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Benefits would include free tuition, living expenses, signing bonuses and a retention bonus after 18 months. Officers who complete the program would be required to work full-time in Minnesota six years after completing the program.

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Winkler, who is running for Hennepin County prosecutor, said a starting point for recruiting officers of good character is former Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom’s approach to screening new hires. From engaging with the community, Bostrom found that both the public and law enforcement wanted officers not just with integrity, but “cultural competency” and a service mindset. Winkler pointed to the St. Cloud Police Department as a good current example, where the chief favors candidates who volunteer in their communities.

Minnesota law enforcement agencies have a 10-15% vacancy rate, with about 58 agencies seeking new officers, according to Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges. Around one-quarter of agencies statewide are trying to fill between 1,200 and 1,500 positions, he said, and schools aren’t producing enough new officers.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have stated a commitment to improving public safety in Minnesota as the state and the nation experience an uptick in violent crime. Democrats in January unveiled a $100 million public safety package — carried by Frazier — that emphasizes a “community” approach, including programs to target the root causes of violent crime such as diversion programs for juvenile offenders.

Republicans have accused some Democrats of hurting officer recruitment and retention through their criticism of police departments and calls to cut law enforcement funding. Winkler challenged that characterization.

“Democratic leaders have consistently said we support law enforcement but we want law enforcement to serve the communities that they’re responsible for, and there has to be accountability as part of it,” he said.

Republicans have emphasized stiffening penalties for offenses such as carjacking and boosting funding for law enforcement recruitment. They have rolled out a $65 million recruitment proposal of their own in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said Republicans remained committed to those priorities.

After the DFL recruitment bill hearing cancellation, Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann issued a statement Tuesday afternoon questioning Democrats' commitment to backing law enforcement.

“Between House Democrats canceling a hearing today and Senate Democrats criticizing a proposal to market the honorable profession of policing, the DFL has made it clear they’re more interested in playing politics than doing what’s necessary to keep MN safe from rising crime," Hann said.

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