Police chiefs call on lawmakers for help with rising crime statewide

Minnesota police and public safety authorities might just as well have dialed 911 at a recent MN State Senate hearing focusing on the crime wave hitting not just the Twin Cities, but statewide. A check of headlines in Forum News and other media around the state shows shootouts, armed robberies and other big-city crimes popping up more and more often in places that you might least expect.

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.”

One of the biggest problems facing authorities concerns lenient sentences handed down by metro area judges and the criminal justice system’s revolving door. Dangerous criminals allowed back on the streets ultimately also threaten public safety in Greater Minnesota.

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.

Democrats faulted the GOP-led Senate joint hearing for focusing largely on the perspective and needs of law enforcement, rather than a broader view of the root causes of violent crime, among other issues.

“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.”

Yet the police chiefs emphasized an urgent need to provide mental health professionals and other additional resources to beleaguered authorities responding to an increasing onslaught of emergency calls. They also warned legislators that the anti-police rhetoric perpetuated since the death of George Floyd and the ensuing riots make it more difficult to recruit quality peace officers, while leading many top cops to leave their ranks.

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.

Controversial Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was a no-show at the hearing, citing a previous commitment. But Choi’s policy of not prosecuting many cases resulting from routine traffic stops didn’t get off anywhere near as easily as the offenders under his jurisdiction.

“This was a mistake for the county attorney to make the decision as to what law enforcement should and should not do,” said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. “It shouldn’t be that that policy for police departments is being made by county attorneys. It certainly shouldn’t be that a good felony case is not brought to the court for prosecution.”