Walz budget would expand the state crime bureau, even as crime falls
Some Democrats question the need to ‘throw more cops’ at the problem
Gov. Tim Walz has proposed to expand the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with a 66% budget increase and 51 new employees. File photo by Tony Webster
Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget would fund a major expansion of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with a 66% budget increase and 51 new employees.
The big increase is setting up a clash with some of Walz’s fellow Democrats, who are questioning the need when violent crime is already dropping after it spiked during the pandemic. They also want to fund crime reduction strategies other than more spending on the BCA, which is the Minnesota equivalent of the FBI.
Former Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who chaired a public safety committee during his final term, questioned the need to “throw more cops at the problem.”
BCA officials say some of the budget increase is one-time spending, replacing expiring federal funding, and going to other agencies with whom the BCA has partnerships.
BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said the additional employees will beef up cybersecurity; speed up processing of forensic evidence; continue funding independent use-of-force investigations; set up a state fraud unit with seven new employees; and help local police investigate violent crimes, carjackings and auto thefts statewide.
While violent crime numbers are “trending in the right direction,” Evans said, the numbers are still significantly elevated. Last spring, the BCA and State Patrol began helping Minneapolis tackle violent crime and street racing. Over 10% of BCA agents were pulled off their cases and redeployed to Minneapolis and the surrounding area.
Walz’s budget would expand that program statewide, at a cost of $24 million.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Bob Jacobson said this is no time to “let up.”
“This is going to be an ongoing challenge for all of us,” he said. “And as we’re looking around the state of Minnesota, there are still fewer and fewer police officers that are available.”
Some agencies don’t have the resources to handle complex cases, he said. And while local agencies struggle to hire police officers, the BCA has been more successful hiring investigators.
Mariani said the House proposal — similar to the DFL proposal he crafted last year — is “much more guided by empirical evidence and good social science on the ground.”
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said his bill focuses on intervention, crime prevention and alternative responses to mental health calls.
“There’s a multi-faceted, dynamic way of looking at community safety outside of just putting more officers on the street,” Frazier said. “Data tells us that we don’t necessarily always need to throw officers at situations.”
Frazier’s $315 million bill (HF25) includes:
- $75 million for violent crime investigation teams to help local police departments tackle unsolved crimes.
- $150 million in grants to community violence prevention and intervention programs such as victim services, prison re-entry, homelessness assistance, restorative justice, violence interruption and juvenile diversion.
- $55 million in grants would go to local law enforcement with two goals in mind: improving criminal investigations and responding more effectively to people having mental health crises.
- Increase funding by $10 million in 2024 and 2025 for the BCA’s independent use-of-force investigations unit.
The House public safety committee chair, Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, said the BCA does need staffing to address a forensic testing backlog and deal with cybersecurity and threats to elected officials and religious groups. BCA’s funding to address crime hotspots would be ongoing, whereas Frazier’s would be funded for five years, she noted.
Frazier has another bill (HF855) that would set up an 18-member public safety innovation board to monitor crime trends, review criminal justice research, recommend crime prevention strategies and award grants.
Moller noted that Walz’s proposal includes $57 million in community grants — through the state Office of Justice Programs — over the next two years to fund community programs and crime victims.
The governor’s public safety plan, which he updated Thursday, would also send $550 million in grants to local governments based on their population and allow local officials to use it however they see fit — including giving some to community anti-violence groups.
Frazier said the money should be targeted to the places that most need it, but he also said he can imagine a compromise with Walz: “I think we could probably find ways to come together and coalesce around some ideas. I also think he believes in the integration of prevention pieces,” Frazier said of Walz.
Evans said the new violent crime unit is taking an empirical approach, and reductions in violent crime “correlate with the work that we’ve been doing.” Minneapolis was among many major cities that saw violent crime drop last year after two years of alarming increases.
Jacobson said a lot of the department’s grant programs invest in prevention and intervention, and DPS is looking at creating a statistical analysis unit.
“We want to make sure that what we’re rolling out and using our funds to do are really working and they’re meeting those best practice approaches and research-based broad purposes,” he said. “It’s not just about enforcement. It’s not just about prevention. It’s combining both of those methods.”
Nineteen of the new BCA employees would be part of the Violent Crime Reduction Support Initiative over the next two years. Four employees would focus on hate crimes, including those targeting faith-based institutions.
Frazier said he supports the investigative work that has helped increase clearance rates for violent crimes, but he’d be concerned about anything that resembles special units with little oversight, like the scandal-ridden Metro Gang Strike Force that the state disbanded in 2009 for violating citizens’ rights and improperly seizing property. Or the Memphis Scorpion unit that was disbanded after its officers beat Tyre Nichols to death in January.
“We’ve seen the harm that those types of units do,” Frazier said.
The Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs already has multijurisdictional violent crime enforcement teams — jointly funded by the state and federal government — that focus on gang and drug crimes. The teams replaced the Metro Gang Strike Force.
Evans said there’s “a lot of oversight” of the new violent crime unit — by 201 legislators, the governor and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents.
“I have… absolute disdain for what I saw happening in Memphis and that’s why we structured this in a way that within our structure, these individuals will be subject to all the rules and regulations of the BCA,” Evans said.
The Memphis unit used “jump-out” tactics that are over two decades old, he said, while the BCA unit is a “strategic, data-informed” group that only targets subjects of active criminal investigations.
While Frazier’s bill also includes $75 million for the BCA to help local agencies solve violent crimes, he said the money is restricted to investigative work.
Mariani said during his time in the Legislature, he was “constantly disappointed” that Walz’s budgets lacked what he called data-driven solutions, instead leaving that to the Legislature.
“We’d bring it up with the administration and they’d say, ‘You can bring that up,’” he said.
But Mariani thinks Walz should lead on the issue, not leave it to lawmakers.
“Let’s not turn this into a partisan battle, which is what will happen at the Legislature. Let’s let good objective science tell us to do this and we’re looking to you as a moral voice.”
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