Public safety and political activism are on a collision course in the Twin Cities.
The two-year fallout from the death of George Floyd has been damaging to Minnesota law enforcement, and in turn the communities they serve.
Activists seized the opportunity to attack the institution of law enforcement both physically and politically. The “defund the police” movement took root. Many politicians seized the opportunity to pander to this movement, and many were all too quick to paint the entire profession as flawed and in need of reform. The anti-police rhetoric served to embolden the criminal element, while undermining and demoralizing those who serve and protect. That combination has been disastrous for Minnesota.
The good news is that support for law enforcement is on the rise and being felt by agencies and officers alike. Strong proposals of support are being debated in the legislature to address statewide police recruitment and retention issues that began in 2020. Counties and municipalities are pursuing aggressive retention and recruiting measures and offering competitive compensation to new applicants. Political leaders on the right and left have begun to acknowledge the critical role law enforcement plays in maintaining a safe and healthy state. People of color have become more vocal in their support of increased enforcement and funding — a long-held position that contrasts with the conventional narrative. Officers acknowledge that while the past two years have been a struggle, the outpouring of support from the “silent majority” has been evident and is getting stronger.
While vocal support and funding for law enforcement has returned, the problems created through the defund movement are significant. A 2021 poll conducted by Center of the American Experiment indicated the public ranked “a lack of support for law enforcement” as the number one reason for the rise in crime. While it will take a sustained systemwide effort to address the crime problem (prosecutors must prosecute, judges must hold and sentence, and corrections must incarcerate, not supervise), it all begins with law enforcement. Most importantly, law enforcement needs strong support to proactively address crime. When support for proactive law enforcement is strong, criminals retreat. When support wanes and officers are relegated to being “responders,” criminals emerge.
The criminal justice system works best for all when there is a balance of power. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges must all work ethically to maintain this balance. Each must judiciously use their limited discretion as it was intended. No one would argue for a defense attorney to abdicate their role in providing the best possible defense for their client, or for a judge to make rulings that are out of line with the rule of law. Yet, with increasing frequency activist prosecutors are unethically abdicating their mandate and abusing their discretion by not prosecuting swaths of crimes, using legally obtained evidence, or advocating for bail or incarceration in many instances.
As if this trend wasn’t bad enough, it is against the will of the people. It is both an ingenious and insidious movement being supported through progressive political action committees that have spent tens of millions of dollars on campaigns to influence the elections of activist prosecutors. It’s an end-around movement that subverts the legislative process of establishing laws and defining punishment — all in the name of “reform.” Riverside County, California District Attorney Mike Hestrin describes the situation well: “I don’t see them as reformers. What they’re after is to destroy the system, the criminal justice system that they very deeply misunderstand. This is not progressive. It’s not reform. It’s just politics and ideology-driven.”
Locally, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison have all shown that they are completely in favor of the ideology of prosecutorial activism. While Freeman is leaving office after this year, one of the leading candidates to replace him is the former embattled Hennepin County Public Defender Mary Moriarty. Moriarty shows no caution in espousing the activist platform — proudly prioritizing “reform” of the Minneapolis Police Department above employing the resources of the office to prosecute the criminals who are destroying our metro area with impunity.
Minnesotans concerned about public safety must prioritize this issue above all others. Two important ways to do this are: 1) Make informed decisions and reject electing activists to serve in our vitally important roles as prosecutors. 2) Support legislative efforts that restrict prosecutorial discretion and hold prosecutors accountable in their mandate to prosecute crime.
Law enforcement professionals understand they must maintain public trust. Doing so means being serious about continuous improvement and meaningful reforms. By all accounts, public support is strong and authentic. Questions remain whether the same authenticity exists politically.
In this election year, crime will be front and center in most campaigns. We must impress upon candidates that support for law enforcement and the critical role it plays in combating crime cannot be just campaign rhetoric — it must be a meaningful, unwavering commitment. Our collective safety depends on it.