How do we define public safety?
For some people, it is about having police officers roam neighborhoods and respond to emergency calls in order to make arrests that lead to criminal charges that lead to prison sentences. The general idea is to target criminals after the fact and attempt to dissuade crime with fear of punishment.
For others, it is about reducing crime in the first place by offering treatment for mental health and substance use, giving young people activities and jobs that inspire them, and improving equity in neighborhoods to strengthen secure housing, caregiving, and education. This approach has more to do with the ability to reduce fear, anger, apathy, anxiety, and instability.
The politics of public safety generally divides people into trusting one of those approaches.
A new public safety legislative package that will be proposed by the Minnesota House DFL when the session opens January 31 includes a budget of $100 million to approach both sides:
- Innovation in Community Safety Grants — $40 million, to support community-based nonprofits invested in violence preventions. A Mother’s Love, for example, sends people to violent crime scenes to work as a calming liaison between police and community.
- Local Policing Grants — $22 million, to build stronger relationships between police and neighbors in high-crime areas. This also would expand crisis response and co-responder teams.
- Crime Investigation Grants — $22 million, to hire and train more investigators for violent crime analysis, including gathering intelligence about criminal networks. Funds also could be used for evidence processing technology and equipment, as well as support to victim’s families.
- Opiate Epidemic Response Grants — $10 million, to address the rising incidence of opioid overdoses during the pandemic, invested in prevention and education strategies.
- Body Camera Grants — $2.5 million, providing resources for more law enforcement agencies to purchase recording devices and data systems.
- POST Board Investigator Investments — $450,000, to hire four additional investigators to investigate conduct of officers.
- POST Board Alternative Licensure — $50,000, to work toward increased recruitment of officers from diverse backgrounds, train in community policing, and maintain high standards for enforcement licenses.
Many people do not report crimes and witnesses will not offer testimony, which means prosecutors have little to go on in order to make charges. This hinders the ability to get violent criminals into the court system, which means justice is not served.
“As someone who has dedicated my career to public safety and seeking justice for victims, I know that for the criminal justice system to work, it is vitally important that people have trust in that system,” says Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL – Shoreview). “The investments in this package will encourage collaboration between community members and local law enforcement while helping to both reduce crime and rebuild the vital trust that is necessary to deliver the justice our communities expect.”
There is also a stack of workloads in county attorney offices that is hard to get through, the legislators noted. In order to improve the ability to charge violent criminals successfully — rather than create a fast assembly line for addressing crime, the investigators and evidence teams need more funds.
“In my work as a prosecutor outside the Legislature, I have seen that an effective response to crime requires strong police-community relations and skilled investigations,” says Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL – St. Paul). “Our bill provides local governments with more than $40 million to fund community policing, investigate more cases, and solve more crimes. With its broad and balanced approach, this plan will help keep our communities safer.”
Violence prevention grants could also be used to focus on determining the proliferation of guns in communities, in order to advance proposals for criminal background checks.
The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee will begin discussions on allocations and public feedback in the first week of the legislative session.
Senate Republicans unveiled their legislative agenda, although it was light on specifics, Ricardo Lopez reported. They want more funding for local police departments to hire and retain officers (just how much tbd!) as well as old-school tough-on-crime policies like heftier minimum sentences. They also want “permanent, long-term” tax cuts (just how much tbd!) and criticized Walz’s proposal for $175 Walz checks as “insulting.”
“We know more cops results in less crime,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona. “If someone breaks the law, there should be consequences.”
State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said his caucus wants to see a series of stiffer punishments for violent criminals. Current laws are too lenient, he said, and county prosecutors and judges are shifting focus away from crime victims. “Much of the crime wave has been attributed to progressive policies like reducing and eliminating bail,” Limmer said. “We intend to remember the victims first before we make public policy.”
In our survey of Minnesota Women’s Press readers in Summer 2021, this is what you told us about the ways you would spend a $200 million budget dedicated to public safety. The concept of getting to root causes that lead to crime before it happens is something most respondents recognized as vital.