Capitol Comments: Support law enforcement officers, don’t vilify them

Published 8:45 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

One of the core functions of government is providing for the safety and protection of its citizens. It is notable that public safety is so important that it’s listed as the very first objective of government in the Minnesota State Constitution.

Peggy Bennett

Some of my legislative colleagues and I recently had the opportunity to spend half a day at the North Metro Regional Public Safety Training Facility in Maple Grove at the invitation of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. We experienced the firearms range, virtual simulator, reality-based training, taser training and the mat room. I was blown away at the amount of training that is required of our peace officers and the excellence of that training. I have a newfound respect for their abilities and preparedness!

Email newsletter signup

Did you know that each peace officer in Minnesota must complete at least 48 hours of continued training every three years? This includes mandated topics such as crisis intervention, mental illness, conflict management, autism, diversity, use of force and firearms and more.

The last several years have taken a large toll on all those who serve in law enforcement and public safety. The repeated trauma that peace officers encounter daily compound into weighty mental health stressors for these men and women. These everyday job stressors are compounded by the vilification of these professionals and constant media attacks. It’s no surprise that all of this has added up to peace officers leaving their careers early with PTSD and few candidates coming in to take their places.

There are extreme groups in our state that want to abolish policing completely. Some of the legislation I am seeing presented at the state capitol seems to contribute to this notion. For example, legislation that would allow law enforcement individuals to be sued personally (instead of the government entity that employs them); requiring peace officers to carry liability insurance; and removing the statute of limitations for peace officers (protections all citizens have) for certain allegations.

What are these people thinking? Are they trying to make it so bad that no one wants to be in law enforcement?

Lack of appropriate law enforcement numbers leads to rampant and out-of-control crime. The criminals and gangs get to run the show. Who does this hurt most? Our black and brown communities in the metro areas. Men and women get mugged or violently assaulted while walking in their neighborhoods; children hit by stray bullets; parents carjacked while taking their kids to school; and minority businesses robbed daily and many close permanently.

How about you? Do you have a great desire to go into the urban areas of our state to go out to eat, park your car or seek out entertainment? With the situation now, I bet most don’t.

This is a clear dereliction of government’s duty to provide safety and protection to the people. Right now, it seems that criminals get all the protections and crime victims and peace officers take a back seat.

I am in frequent contact with and always value hearing from our local law enforcement officers and leaders. One of the biggest issues I hear from them is recruitment. Twenty-five years ago, it was common to have 130 candidates apply for a single position locally. Now they are lucky to have one application.

This is why we need to stop this abject attack on law enforcement with legislative efforts like I referenced above. It unnecessarily drives people away from this honorable profession.

Why would someone want to go into law enforcement if their personal and family’s livelihood would be in jeopardy for a mistake made (or from the attacks of an aggressive attorney) on the job?

One positive initiative I support is making sure we have the backs of the men and women of law enforcement by increasing the penalties for the assault of a peace officer. Getting assaulted or shot should not just be “part of the job” for a peace officer. It should be a significant crime. I am a co-author on this bill.

Another issue is the cost and time for training. I support a moratorium on any unfunded training mandates and full funding for current training.

A third local issue is the long wait time for crime forensic analysis. Even DNA tests for high-profile crime cases have a 2-3 month wait time, while the typical delay is 6-12 months. These delays in evidence processing can result in delaying or even denying justice for crime victims. I am in full support of the bonding effort to bring a new forensic lab to southern Minnesota and expand the lab in Bemidji. I hope we will see these two requests in this year’s capital investment bill.

I fully support our police officers, sheriffs and deputies, state troopers, DNR conservation officers and other law enforcement professionals. These honorable professionals provide an important job for us all. Thank you for your service!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.