Lawmakers put early focus on public safety bills

Published 9:00 pm Friday, February 4, 2022

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By Albert Lea Tribune and Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota lawmakers on both sides of the aisle started the first week back at the Capitol highlighting ways to retain and recruit more police officers statewide.

Gene Dornink

Leaders of both the Democratic House and GOP-controlled Senate have put forth public safety packages featuring a wide range of proposals. The efforts come amid increased concern about violent crime statewide. Minneapolis last year recorded its highest number of homicides in over 20 years.

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The House public safety committee used the first week of session to highlight a $100 million public safety package authored by Democratic Rep. Cedric Frazier of New Hope. A hearing Friday focused on measures in the package aimed at improving trust and accountability between police and their communities.

The package includes $44 million to hire beat cops and bolster investigations, along with $40 million in grants for violence prevention by community groups. It also would allow municipalities to establish civilian oversight councils and would authorize the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training to take action on an officer’s license for criminal conduct.

“We assembled this bill over several months using a simple nonpartisan process in hopes that amid a national crisis, Minnesota can come together to support proven, research-based solutions to combat crime,” Frazier said in a statement. “This legislation invests in a robust tool kit to strengthen law enforcement partnerships, increasing law enforcement capacity and effectiveness, and repair community trust and confidence, all of which will translate into increased community reporting of crimes and prevention of violence.”

Senate Republicans rolled out their own $65 million public safety package on Thursday with several efforts to retain and recruit officers.

“The C.O.P.S package will help recruit and train future officers. While this money is an important step, we need to do more,” said District 27 Sen. Gene Dornink, R–Hayfield, noting that across the nation, law enforcement positions are opening up faster than they can be replaced by retirement or resignation.

In 2021 alone, the Star Tribune reported Minnesota saw 32 police chiefs retire. The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board Job board shows openings for licensed peace officers in at least 65 agencies. Minneapolis and St. Paul have nearly 300 open positions to fill as of last month. 

“Law enforcement is an honorable career path that deserves our respect and admiration,” Dornink said. “The complete disregard for the service and sacrifice made by our law enforcement needs to end.

Republican Sen. John Jasinski of Faribault said the state is facing a crisis in the number of licensed officers available in Minnesota to even apply for the job openings listed.

“This might be most pronounced in the metro, but in many rural communities like mine, we have struggled to recruit new officers to live and work in these communities,” Jasinski said.

The proposals include bonuses of up to $10,000 for newly hired police officers, grants of up to $3,000 for students pursuing law enforcement degrees and a scholarship program aimed at getting more students enrolled in two-year law enforcement programs at Minnesota colleges.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has pitched his own public safety package that features hundreds of millions of dollars for local police agencies, funding to bolster departments’ investigations, incentives to recruit and retain officers.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, said in a statement that House Democrats will announce a proposal focused on police retention and recruitment in the coming days and welcomes working with Senate Republicans to find common ground.

“Democrats in the Minnesota House understand that police recruitment and retention is a challenge for many communities right now,” he said. “In our engagement with police chiefs, sheriffs, and local officials, Democrats are hearing that police departments want to diversify their workforce and ensure officers are committed to service in their communities.”