Senate hearing focuses on rising crime in Minnesota

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Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate held a hearing Thursday on the rising violent crime rate in Minnesota and the impact it’s having on law enforcement. Democrats say, by focusing only on law enforcement, Republicans missed a chance to take a closer look at the causes of the increase in crime.

The law enforcement officials who testified all criticized the proposed charter amendment in Minneapolis that could replace the largest police department in the state with a new public safety department.

"If the Minneapolis referendum passes to eliminate the charter mandate on the minimum number of officers, we are all expecting dramatic increases in crime in Minneapolis and St. Paul," Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told lawmakers. "For those who say that’s Minneapolis’s problem, we need to address that succinctly. All of us spend time there. What happens in Minneapolis will affect this entire state. It is the jewel our state when it comes to restaurants, sports and other activities that we all want to visit. But it’s getting to the point we won’t even allow our sons and daughters to go down there if it continues."

Several law enforcement officials also testified that moves to restrict traffic stops and decline prosecuting some crimes are making it difficult to retain current police officers and attract new ones.

"We all know that people are thinking twice about doing their job and perhaps being prosecuted and sent to prison," said Wm. Blair Anderson, the chief of police in St. Cloud. "A lot of good, decent, hard-working police officers are going to continue leaving this profession and we’re going to be left with the ones we don’t want."

Maple Grove Police Chief Eric Werner says he just lost another veteran police officer who is well-respected in his department and community.

"Who, quite frankly, said I am submitting this retirement two years early because the system is failing us and there is a sense of lawlessness out there," Werner said.

The law enforcement officers were also uniformly opposed to the decision by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to stop prosecuting felonies that stem from low-level traffic stops.

"We believe that making those stops and being proactive is the way you start to make cases. You make your community safer and we will continue to do that," Chisago County Sheriff Brandon Thyen testified.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Limmer says Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was invited to testify but declined due to a scheduling conflict.

Republican Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, was disappointed Choi didn’t testify.

"Because it is his policy that he has instituted in Ramsey County, his jurisdiction, that is in large measure why we are here today," Newman said.

DFL senators said the focus of the hearing was too narrow and slanted toward law enforcement.

"Seems to me this hearing is an inadequately narrow approach to the task it sets out to accomplish," Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said. "Which is determining the causes for the increase in crime."

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, the vice chair of the House Public Safety Committee, also issued a statement critical of the hearing.

"This hearing was a farce as it did not hear from victims of crime or community members impacted by crime, but only law enforcement. Law enforcement is an important voice, but shouldn’t be the only voice."

Republicans say they will hold additional hearings during the regular session.