Editorial: Crime requires strategic response
DFL and GOP take different approaches. Minnesota needs both.
Violent crime is uppermost in many Minnesotans’ minds these days, and lawmakers are keenly aware of the need to address that in the closing weeks of the legislative session. Once again the Republican-led Senate and DFL-controlled House have produced dramatically different approaches, and once again, the answer is to take the best of both and move forward.
The Senate bill, passed earlier this week on a bipartisan vote, includes tougher penalties for violent crime, creation of a special “carjacking” crime, bonuses to recruit and retain police officers, and greater accountability on sentencing and prosecutorial decisions.
The House aims the bulk of its spending at community groups and hiring more police officers. It creates grants for juvenile crime prevention and at-risk youths, along with mental health and conflict resolution centers. It would ban solitary confinement of juveniles. House Speaker Melissa Hortman told an editorial writer that the House approach is more holistic and data-driven.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, a former St. Paul police chief, testified in a hearing that “most people prefer not to have their house broken into, or have their car taken, or have themselves assaulted rather than have police catch the bad guy later on. They would rather just not have anything happen at the front end.” That is, of course, what every law-abiding citizen wants. But the conditions that will achieve that goal often require a mix of approaches that include prevention, intervention and deterrence.
It is not unreasonable, given the surge of violent crime at hand, to impose greater penalties and in particular, to institute a specific carjacking crime. Carjacking has become especially alarming for its frequency and violence. Clearly this demands immediate attention yet doesn’t preclude efforts to address root causes.
Efforts such as those in the House bill to empower communities with local grants for alternatives to traditional policing can be worthwhile if they also are closely monitored for effectiveness. Such grants should lay out in advance the metrics by which they will be considered successful and be prepared to offer proof of that success.
The House bill, notably, also invests in two critical areas: improved forensics and DNA testing at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab, a statewide resource available to all police departments; and funding to allow the attorney general’s office to shore up its ability to provide highly skilled attorneys for under-resourced county attorneys. The Senate bill does neither, which is shortsighted.
The Senate and House both put more money into the public defender system, underfunded for far too long. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who heads the Judiciary and Public Finance committee, said the $55 million in his bill would go a long way toward “the right of every citizen to have an attorney appointed.” Both bills also provide needed pay increases for judges, who have been leaving or retiring at a rapid clip.
The House bill also contains important police accountability measures, including an expanded ability of the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) board to investigate officer wrongdoing and even revoke licenses. As Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said at an earlier hearing, “That is what every other licensing board currently has the ability to do. You don’t have to break the law, violate the law or be charged with a crime in order to violate the public trust.” Accountability measures such as that should go hand-in-hand with the bonuses that it is hoped will attract and retain the best and brightest in law enforcement.
“We need every spoke of the criminal justice wheel working together,” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell told an editorial writer. “It’s not a case of either/or. Prevention and intervention are both critically important.”
Axtell said the recruitment and retention bonuses are vital at a time when St. Paul is losing valued police officers to suburban districts that can afford to pay thousands more. He also supports the proposal that would expand POST board authority to revoke licenses. “It’s important to keep the right officers,” he said, “and even more important to keep the wrong ones from wearing the badge.”
One provision that shows what can happen when both sides work together is a “Clean Slate” provision authored in the House by Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, and backed in the Senate by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. Long said the proposal would automatically expunge some low-level offenses, a process now accomplished by petition, which can take years and further delay a person’s full re-entry into society while also stressing an overburdened criminal justice system. The coalition behind this proposal is impressive, ranging from Catholic Charities to Americans for Prosperity to the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
“One in four Minnesotans have some type of criminal record, and 90% of employers conduct background checks,” Long told an editorial writer. “This can be a really significant barrier to employment for tens of thousands of Minnesotans.” Despite having a powerful Senate sponsor, the proposal is not part of the Senate crime bill, but it could offer strong common ground in conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions will be worked out.
There is much more work to be done than will be accomplished in the next few weeks, no matter what compromises are made. In the first installment of a news series looking at juvenile justice, the Star Tribune recently offered a detailed, compelling examination of the system and the high repeat offender rates for criminal youths.
That rate of recidivism is a cry for help — and for justice. Neither should be ignored as the Legislature sorts through these complex bills.
St. Cloud Times. April 29, 2022.
Editorial: State report confirmed the state of Minneapolis Police Department, now let’s have action
The findings of a Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department didn’t come as much of a surprise, unfortunately. The state investigation into the troubled department largely found what civilian onlookers had been saying for years: Statistically, Minneapolis police treat people of color differently than white people.
Certainly not all Minneapolis officers, and certainly white people have been mistreated as well, as if that must be said. The report’s findings, however, are clear and consistent with what communities of color and their allies have voiced repeatedly: White people are safer around Minneapolis police, statistically, than other residents.
The state’s investigation found non-white drivers are pulled over by Minneapolis police significantly more often for minor or questionable offenses. Once pulled over, BIPOC people are far more likely to be asked if they have guns or drugs, they are far more likely to have their vehicle searched than a white driver and they are far more likely to experience excessive use of force.
The numbers: 13 of the 14 people killed by Minneapolis officers since 2010 (note: that’s more than one per year) were people of color or Indigenous. Those groups comprise about 42% of Minneapolis, but they account for 93% of the city’s officer-involved deaths. While about 19% of Minneapolis residents are Black, 63% of all Minneapolis police use-of-force actions were against Black people, the state study found.
It would be naive to expect police actions to match a community’s racial makeup precisely, of course. But the message in the state report is clear: We can no longer deny or brush aside the problem. It’s time — long past time, actually — to believe the community and the investigators and move on to solutions.
Among the solutions recommended in the state report:
— Reform police training priorities from an emphasis on paramilitary-style training which, the study found, “results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force.” The state instead recommends emphasizing professional training in community service and de-escalation to keep residents and officers safer. Because, without a doubt, officers are safer when fewer people see them as dangerous or hostile. To be clear, officers still need to be trained to respond to dangerous situations and defend themselves. But the emphasis can and should shift away from the militarization of police forces of all sizes that has burgeoned in the past 25 years.
— The report also emphasized that police must “communicate honestly” with the public when crises occur. The flatly false news release issued after George Floyd’s murder, stating that he died after a medical crisis, undermined trust in honest officers and endangered police across Minnesota and the nation as a result. Why? Because the good guys aren’t supposed to lie, obfuscate, fib or misdirect to protect their own or hide their mistakes. Leaders step up. Leaders speak the truth, even when — especially when — it’s an uncomfortable truth.
— The report also recommends better systems of accountability, more effective investigations when officer misconduct is reported and reformed performance expectations for police. For those measures to have real-world impact in the Minneapolis police department, outside oversight will be required, we believe.
The report said what many community members of all races have been saying for a long while. It’s time to accept that and focus on effective law enforcement, regardless of race. That’s what we all want. It’s what the people of Minneapolis do not have.
It’s time to accept reality and pledge to move forward equitably for all citizens, more safely for all officers, and in a way that can make Minnesota proud again.
Mankato Free Press. May 3, 2022.
Editorial: Minnesota flag needs an update
Most people understand that the Confederate flag carries with it a terrible history of representing slavery and doesn’t have a place in society, outside a museum.
We suspect most Minnesotans haven’t paid close attention to the meaning of our state flag. If they do, they will realize it, too, carries a terrible symbolism.
The flag, first unfurled in 1893, has a large white circle with a copy of the state seal in the middle. The seal has a picture of a settler plowing a field and a Native American on horseback — maybe being driven away, maybe escaping.
The image of the pioneer man shows him looking peaceful as he plows, but with his rifle nearby. The Native American, on the other hand, has a spear in his hand, indicating he may still want to fight.
The meaning of the scene — that the remaining Indigenous people should be driven out while the settlers enjoy the riches of the land — was made clear by a poem penned by Mary Eastman, spouse of the Fort Snelling soldier who designed the seal.
MPR News reports that the poem urged the “red man” to flee all the way to the Pacific coast.
There is some progress in the Legislature to have the state create a new flag, although there is always some pushback when it comes to changes like this. It’s obvious the time has come for the flag to be redesigned.
This also could be an opportunity to give our flag a lot more pizazz. As it is, our state flag is quite boring. Seen from the ground, people don’t really see anything but a big white circle. Looking at it, there’s nothing that jumps out to say “Minnesota.”
When people rank the best to worst state flags, ours usually ends up in the bottom quarter or so.
New Mexico’s state flag colors are the red and yellow of old Spain, with a simple, elegant center design that is the ancient Zia sun symbol. Alaska’s flag features a blue field representing the Alaska sky and stars in the form of the Big Dipper, with a larger North Star on top, representing the most northerly state.
Like many other state flags, they celebrate the people, history and pride of their residents.
Minnesota has a rich and deep history and many natural wonders that could be incorporated into a new flag. Certainly people could come up with all sorts of ideas for an image on a new flag that would be simple and impactful and show something unique to our state that we could all be proud of.
The racist relic on our state flag needs to be done away with, and it’s the Legislature’s job to make sure it happens.
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