The Potluck

House GOP pushes Dems to get tougher on crime

By: - April 19, 2022 4:46 pm

A Minneapolis police officer unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

Two Republican House leaders say the Democratic-controlled House has done little more than pay lip service to addressing crime and a police shortage. 

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, sent a letter Thursday saying before the session began, House Democrats advocated for stronger penalties for carjacking, house arrest for youth auto theft offenders, and grant programs aimed at recruiting police officers. 

But in the end, they say those proposals were “completely ignored” by House Democratic public safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who refused to hear the GOP’s amendments incorporating some of the proposals Democrats said they supported before the session began.

Republicans are poised to hammer Democrats on crime in the upcoming election, in which they need to flip four seats to reach a 68-seat majority. 

Mariani said the state can’t keep taking the “same-old, same-old” failed approach to public safety that has led to mass incarceration and racially biased outcomes. 

The House Public Safety Innovation Act, authored by Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, committee vice chair, was recently passed as part of a larger finance bill. 

Frazier’s bill costs $330 million over three years. The money would go to recruit police officers, as well as fund programs Democrats say will be more effective reducing crime long term than traditional police.

These include mobile crisis teams, which are made up of mental health workers who provide psychiatric services outside of clinics; so-called violence interrupters, who are community members — often formerly incarcerated — hired by cities to try to break the cycle of violence and retribution in high-crime areas; co-responder programs, which pair law enforcement officers with mental health workers to respond to people in crisis; and, juvenile diversion programs that help kids with little to no criminal records avoid getting caught up in the criminal justice system. The bill also includes $15 million for one-time emergency community safety grants, among other spending.

The letter from Johnson and Daudt scoffs at this approach: “The DFL’s solution is to give money to ‘violence-interrupters’ and grow the state government bureaucracy by tens of millions of dollars and dozens of new FTEs in an office building in St. Paul,” they wrote.

Mariani said in response to the GOP letter that “the careful, hard work embedded in the bill itself deserves an in-depth look.” The House bill is grounded in research, he said, recognizing that people whose basic needs are met are less likely to resort to crime. Too often, he said, law enforcement is being asked to play roles for which it’s not suited.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.