Testimony in Support of New Public Safety Approach; HF25 Moves Forward in House

January 19 — Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL–43A) moved for HF25 to be referred to the Ways & Means committee.

He indicated that in 2022 he introduced the Public Safety Innovation Package, drafted after conversations with community members, law enforcement groups, and informed by research on proven crime prevention, intervention, and reduction strategies. His new House File 25 seeks to provide funding for this “innovative, multi-faceted approach” in order to establish: .

  • a Community Crime and Prevention Fund to provide resources for local governments and tribal governments, to provide crime prevention and intervention strategies based on what works for their communities.
  • the Violent Crime and Clearance Support Fund to provide resources to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension(BCA) in order to allocate funds to local units of government facing acute need based on the rate of violent crime, and those in need of help to improve violent crime clearance rates.
  • a Crisis Response and Criminal Investigation Fund, administered by the Office of Justice Programs, to award grants to local law enforcement agencies and local governments to improve responses to mental health crises and criminal investigations.
  • funding to continue the BCA’s  independent-use-of-force investigations unit, which supports investigations when a law enforcement officer uses force and a person dies or is seriously injured, as well as investigations of sexual assault allegations involving Minnesota officers.

Testimony from Andrew Bentley, a South Minneapolis resident, speaking as a resident; works for Harvard Kennedy School of Government Performance Lab on the Criminal Justice Policy Team that works with Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s Administration

“Originally, in the 80s and 90s, I grew up in South Minneapolis. Back then my mother was struggling with mental health issues that resulted in fits of long-lasting range and disorientation. She also had multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that caused both cognitive and physical decline. Back then my mother was dependent on a cane and in the middle of a sunny summer day, back in the early 90s, during one of her outbursts of rage and disorientation, she called 911.

“Two armed police officers arrived and questioned each family member separately. When it was discovered that my mother had hit my dad in his leg with her cane during her outburst, even though it wasn’t hard and didn’t hurt, the officers took action. They were obligated to arrest my mother due to [mandatory assault laws in cases of domestic violence]. There was nothing they could do, they said. [More on this law coming in March issue of Minnesota Women’s Press, focused on gender-based violence.]

“The officers didn’t discuss my mother’s mental or physical health with us. She was never referred to services in the community. I stood on my lawn and watched my sick mother, who was less than 5 feet tall, get arrested. As my mother walked down the driveway, I saw helplessness and shame in her face. That moment caused my mother to develop a resentment that festered for decades. She resented the police for their obligation and my father for not preventing her arrest. When she found out — and remember I was just a little boy — that I was the one who told the officer she had hit my father, she resented me.

“Those struggles became more intense. She never did get the support she needed and she passed away four years ago. My father, the kindest man I know, became my mother’s caretaker for 30 years. Back on that day, I stood on my lawn and watched him weep and beg the officers not to arrest his sick wife. ‘Take me,’ he pleaded. He felt he had failed as her caretaker.

“I don’t remember the names of the officers, but I imagine that they also felt helplessness in their obligation and their lack of training. They weren’t mental health experts or social workers and they hadn’t been informed where to refer this sick woman.

“That day could have been an inflection point in the other direction. I truly believe that. If the people who had answered that [911] call could have identified that she was struggling with mental health, they could have connected her with services that prevented her suffering. How are we supporting those who need the most?

“House File 25 is our opportunity to change who answers the call here in Minnesota. An entire system has to be rebuilt — support [and training] to social workers, overhaul our 911 triage process, and development of mental health and community safety services across the state.”

LaTanya Black, founder of Mothers Against Community Gun Violence (MACGV)

LaTanya Black

“On May 5, 1997, I gave birth to a beautiful, bouncing baby girl Nia Black. On June 13, 2020 — exactly 9.1 miles from Fairview Riverside Hospital where she was born, exactly 3.1 miles from where we sit today — Nia was shot and murdered. She was shot in the head at 23 years old. My baby died instantly on the scene. My life has forever changed. My family and I are not the same. There’s nothing for the pain of a heartbreak. There’s nothing you can take.”

Nia was a full-time college student, and was shot when she was a passenger in a car. LaTanya founded MACGV three weeks later.

“I am in support of House File 25 because it would allow my gun violence prevention organization and other organizations to have a greater reach for victims, families, and survivors living with the traumatic, traumatizing, everyday sentence affected by gun violence. We offer healing and restoration services, and mental health services, regardless of your zip code.” 

Remeisha Jones, advocate with Mothers Against Community Gun Violence

She lost her 15-year-old son on April 12, 2021.

“Imagine getting a text and a phone call: Your child has been shot and killed. My son never was in a fight, never was suspended. But when COVID came, he got hooked up with the wrong friends. Nine months changed my son’s life. I live in Saint Paul, my son got murdered in Minneapolis.”

“The help that the county offered wasn’t right for me. I didn’t feel safe. I was broken. You have shame and you have guilt. I was misunderstood, until I was introduced to Mothers Against Community Gun Violence, where I found love, understanding, people who could identify with my hurt, my pain, and my suffering. The service of restorative yoga, my weekly group meetings with other grieving moms who lost their child.

“Their specialists help us to eat right, think clearly, to understand and comprehend ‘where do I go from here?’ The county doesn’t give us a blueprint for that. How do I pick up the pieces of everyone judging me, ‘it’s your fault,’ living with shame when you have two other kids looking at you. If I’m broken and hurt, what do I have to offer my two kids? The county couldn’t give me that. Without MACGV, I would not be able to stand here before you today. Today I can step out of my shame and step into healing. It’s a daily life struggle.

“Just imagine getting a text and not having a blueprint of where to go from there.”

Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County Attorney

“The murder of George Floyd and the pandemic forced our public safety systems to begin an unprecedented transformation.”

Now in her third week in office, Moriarty has met with Hennepin County suburban police, the new Minneapolis police chief and members of his staff, and state law enforcement. “We all recognize the need for smart, sizable, and sustainable investments in emerging best practices so that we can effectively respond to the challenges our communities face. This visionary bill meets this historic moment.”

She commented about the ability to apply more funding toward increasing clearance rates of violent crimes, and investing in BCA forensic analysis.

“The most innovative and visionary aspect of this legislation is the community crime and violence prevention grants. The criminal legal system’s traditional focus has been on the period of time after the crime until some kind of resolution of the case. This bill represents an historic recognition that investing in prevention and intervention will help prevent harm and save lives.”

Grants would fund victim services, re-entry programs, restorative justice, juvenile diversion programs, and other interventions.

Superintendent Drew Evans, Minnesota BCA

“We have a team of agents working in Minneapolis and surrounding areas, addressing emerging violent crime needs that we are seeing. That team is working very closely with local partners, our federal partners, and other state partners to address some of these needs and that team has seen some results. We’ve seen crime has gone down when we have exactly what County Attorney Moriarty noted — really targeted, strategic, smart approaches to policing. But currently it’s not sustainable. This bill would allow us to sustain those efforts, both for the work we are doing, and to expand it with our local partners, who we have heard over and over are willing to step up and join teams.”

Since April 2022, he said, BCA teams and local partners have arrested 652 individuals engaged in violent crimes and seized over 350 firearms.

Irene Fernando, Hennepin County Commission Board Chair

“There continues to be a critical need for an integrated approach of public safety and behavioral health, working together to support residents facing mental health-related challenges. When people call 911 for a public safety need, fire, or medical emergency, a specially trained person arrives. This is not the case when people call 911 for a mental health need. This mismatch in training, response, and need are costly to both residents and the system at large. The result puts people on a path of repeated traumatic exposure, overuse of inappropriate interventions, and poor health outcomes.”

Hennepin County funds mental health training and support for 911 dispatchers and mental health professionals. A new local resolution authorizes expansion of the program to support 34 social workers county wide in 29 police departments in 42 cities.

“This is a very, very necessary step to ensuring compassion and results-oriented work that we need for our residents.”

Jeff Potts, Executive Director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association

“We do feel very strongly that the model and framework that is being put together by the BCA and their partners to address violent crime is working. We would urge the committee to consider increasing the $15 million — we think that can have a very quick and immediate result in hopefully preventing situations like we heard about earlier today with gun violence affecting individuals.

For the record, it takes a very long time to put together alternative response models. Embedded social workers — I have experience with that from my time in Bloomington. It can take a year to put that program together. This money sunsets in about 14 or 15 months. We urge the committee to consider adding that to the base. We think those are very valuable programs that take a while to put together and we think you should consider that as ongoing funding.”

Before the vote was taken, committee members discussed possible amendments.

Rep. Hout (DFL–District 56B, representing Rosemount area): “In my last term I was pretty much opposed to [the embedded social worker program], but now I’m totally a supporter. I know that my cities use it.” He asked for clarification by a police chief in the audience to discuss the merits, and whether $15 million is enough for an embedded social worker program.

Jeff Potts: “These programs are growing quickly. [Now, about] half of the cities from Hennepin County have agreements to have embedded social workers. Ramsey County is growing as well. It’s not as quick in Greater Minnesota because those resources are more difficult to find. [The programs] are effective. When the officers go to the call, or when it’s the actual social worker, they’re quickly able to assess whether this person currently has a caseworker. If not, we try to connect them with the services they need so we help them get out of crisis. Additional callbacks drop considerably.

He indicated that $15 million is NOT enough, “especially when you consider it takes 18 months to build a program and this money will sunset before that. These are very effective programs.”

Committee members voted unanimously in favor of sending the bill to Ways and Means: Moller, Feist, Novotny, Becker-Finn, Engen, Frazier, Grossell, Holland, Hudson, Huot, Mueller, Pinto, Tabke, Witte

This story was reported by Cirien Saadeh of The Uptake, a partner in collaborative independent media.

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