The Minnesota State Capitol building in winter, St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster.
A week ahead of the 2022 Legislative session, House Democrats showed a united front on a proposal to boost funding for police, an issue that has often divided them and which Republicans aim to use to win the upcoming midterms.
House Democrats unveiled a $100 million package during a Monday news conference that would boost funding for crime investigators and community policing initiatives as well as violence prevention efforts from nonprofit groups. The proposal also funds police accountability efforts including money for body cameras and police misconduct investigators.
Their proposal comes as high rates of violent crime have forced Democrats to pivot from the police accountability policies that topped their agenda for the past two years.
“All Democrats, all Minnesotans, all elected officials are aware of the rise in crime,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who is running to be the top prosecutor in Hennepin County. “It’s happening in communities across the metropolitan area, and it’s happening in greater Minnesota, too. We need to do more to address it.”
Republicans have cast blame on Democrats for the uptick in crime by claiming their “anti-police rhetoric” has emboldened criminals and demoralized police officers.
House Democrats confronted those attacks through two refrains in Monday’s news conference: Crime is up all across the country and Democrats support police.
“Crime is on the rise in both punitive states like Mississippi and reformed states like Oregon,” said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who co-authored the proposal. “This proposal will innovate public safety by helping law enforcement increase their capacity, community partnerships, and intelligence.”
Democrats held the news conferences as attorneys offered their opening statements in the federal trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers charged with depriving George Floyd of his civil rights for not intervening as Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
But House Democrats didn’t mention Floyd or the federal trial, a sign of how crime has overtaken police brutality in politics.
Just last year, House Democrats failed to pass funding for additional police presence during Chauvin’s trial. Progressive members of the caucus said they couldn’t support it, calling it a giveaway to police that failed to hold them accountable for misconduct during the protests and riots following Floyd’s death.
Democrats have not abandoned efforts at police reform, however. The proposal put forth by Democrats includes $2.5 million for body cameras and $450,000 for the state’s Police Officers Standards and Training Board to hire four investigators to review misconduct complaints against police officers.
In describing their proposal, Frazier and his colleagues were also careful to distinguish it from the tough-on-crime policies that their party championed in the ’90s and which Republicans are calling for today such as longer minimum sentences.
The proposal includes $22 million in grant funding for crime investigators and another $22 million for community policing initiatives. That funding is nearly matched by $40 million for non-police public safety grants to nonprofit organizations that do violence prevention work.
“More funding for community-led responses that attack the root of the problem can prevent crime from happening in the first place,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Center.
Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, also works as a prosecutor for the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and said the funding for additional criminal investigators will help prosecutors try more cases.
“My fellow prosecutors and I can only prosecute crimes when there is the evidence to do so,” Pinto said.
A recent Reformer analysis showed that police fail to arrest or charge suspects the vast majority of shootings.
State Republicans were quick to criticize the proposal, saying the package “falls woefully short.”
“Their package does nothing to hold criminals accountable, and nothing to address the revolving door of repeat criminals responsible for a substantial number of carjackings, shootings, and other violent crimes,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, Republican lead on the House Public Safety Committee.
In his statement, Johnson said Republicans will be proposing a package of bills that boost funding to local police and “strengthen accountability” for judges and prosecutors. The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association put forward a proposal that would require county attorneys to report to the Legislature when they choose not to prosecute crimes police believe are felonies.
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