The Potluck

Senate Republicans attack county attorney for car stop policy

By: - October 21, 2021 2:03 pm

State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

Senate Republicans and some law enforcement officials criticized Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s decision not to prosecute cases that stem solely from traffic stops unrelated to public safety

A Senate hearing on Thursday focused on the rising crime in the Twin Cities metro and featured a slate of testifiers that included Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson. 

“This was a mistake for the county attorney to make the decision as to what law enforcement should and should not do,” 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.”

Last month, Choi’s office announced it would adopt the policy to help reduce racial disparities in arrests and prosecutions that disproportionately affect people of color. 

Stops unrelated to public safety, according to Choi’s office, include equipment violations like having a broken taillight. “They are often used as a pretext to search a vehicle for evidence of other crimes or violations,” according to Choi’s office.

In an interview, Choi defended the policy saying studies show that a very small rate of non-public safety stops result in the seizure of weapons and police instead pull over Black drivers disproportionately.

“Their intentions on its face are not racial, but the impact is,” Choi said. 

He pushed back on claims that his office is changing how police conduct their work.

“I’m not forcing any police department to do anything,” he said. “I’m just the backstop.” 

He was blunt in his assessment of GOP decision to call the hearing

“I’m just going to call it out,” he said. “What it is is utilizing fear to stoke up racism.”

Choi says only six offenses are considered non-public safety violations, and they include having a loud muffler, having something hanging from their rearview mirror, broken tail lights or expired license plate tabs. 

Some cities and local police departments, including Roseville, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have adopted similar policies. 

The police killing of Daunte Wright, in which former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter shot Wright when she mistook her gun for a Taser, highlighted the danger of certain kinds of police stops. 

State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, a former police officer, took issue with the term “pretextual stops” and has frequently disputed that racial bias plays a role in those types of traffic stops. He has called Choi’s policy a “disgraceful abdication of his responsibility as county attorney.”

Republicans, who are making rising crime and public safety a top election concern, were critical of progressive proposals to defund police. 

DFL lawmakers argued that the list of testifiers should have included other criminal justice experts to shed light on what is causing the rise in violent crime in the Twin Cities and nationwide. 

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.