ST. PAUL — Law enforcement officials from around the state on Thursday, Oct. 21, told the joint Minnesota Senate committee that they were experiencing a surge in crime and asked for additional tools to address the uptick.
Police chiefs who addressed a joint state panel said they saw more instances of people in violation of probation or parole getting involved in other crimes. And they asked for help limiting the "spillover" of such cases into communities around the state.
"This is a huge problem and so if the question is asked how you all can help or how we can help ourselves, that cannot continue," St. Cloud Police Chief Wm. Blair Anderson said. "Our job is to find bad guys and arrest them. Imagine how frustrating it is that when you're the arresting officer and before you've finished your report, that person's back out on the street."
They also asked lawmakers for help rolling out co-responder models that allow mental health providers to respond to crisis calls with law enforcement officers. And the chiefs requested help in getting more resources to respond to car chases and in getting more applicants into the eligible pool to become officers and in reducing stigma around the profession.
The conversation comes as the state reports increased rates of violent crime around the state, consistent with trends around the country. And it touched on tensions around local efforts to transition funds from police budgets to public health or other community resources, as well as the Legislature's move to re-write police accountability laws following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The committee split on the best approach for tackling the root causes of violent crime in Minnesota and they sparred over the next steps to take in addressing the requests.
Republican senators who chaired the committee said county attorneys in the Twin Cities Metro area had not prosecuted criminal offenders to the full extent of the law. And judges in the region often handed down lesser sentences than those available to them, allowing offenders to commit additional crimes, they said.
“Crime is migrating from the metro area into rural Minnesota and one of the reasons why my local law enforcement feels that is occurring is because of the lack of prosecution,” Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said.
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Democrats on the panel said the conversation about understanding and addressing crime would involve bringing other experts like mental health advocates, public health officials and criminologists to the table. And they faulted GOP committee chairs for giving air exclusively to police leaders.
“It seems to me that this hearing is an inadequately narrow approach to the task it sets out to accomplish, which is determining the causes of the increase in crime,” Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said. “If we really want to solve this problem, I think we need to look much more broadly than hearing from the law enforcement testifiers that we did today.”
Latz and others called for GOP Senate leaders to take up measures that address mental health resources and limit access to firearms for those who pose a danger to themselves or to others. The DFL-led House of Representatives in 2020 approved a pair of gun control measures but those didn't come up for a vote in the Senate.