Fact Check: Objection! Minnesota AG candidates overstate violent crime spike, prosecutor staffing

Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison's record is the focus of new television ads from his campaign and his rival, Republican Jim Schultz, and both overplay their hands as they seek to convince voters.

Ellison won the office in 2018 with a 3.9-percentage point margin, the closest statewide contest in a year when Democrats swept the statewide races. Polls suggest that this year's matchup between Ellison and Schultz is a statistical dead heat.

In recent weeks, Ellison and Schultz have traded attacks and rolled out dueling endorsements. In his first TV ad ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Ellison says he's tried to beef up his office's criminal prosecution unit. Schultz says Ellison has looked the other way as violent crime surged.

Schultz's ad

"Your vote for attorney general comes down to one question," Schultz says in a straight-to-camera delivery. "Can you trust Keith Ellison to keep you and your family safe? His record says no."

As police sirens wail in the background, on-screen text says Ellison "partnered with (U.S. Rep.) Ilhan Omar to defund the police."

This is misleading because it conflates 2021's failed Minneapolis Police ballot measure with an actual vote to defund police.

Ellison endorsed the ballot question, which would've replaced MPD with a safety agency and eliminated the city's minimum staffing requirement. That put him at odds with several other Minnesota Democrats, including Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The ballot question did not defund police on its own. Instead, funding decisions would've been left up to future city councils. Ellison, as a statewide constitutional officer, would not have had a vote.

Next, Schultz says Ellison "let violence spread like a cancer" while the ad's on-screen text claims violent crime has spiked 63% since Ellison took office.

While it's impossible to fact check intangible claims like the one Schultz makes, we can assess the data used to back it up.

Schultz's 63% claim is inaccurate, FOX 9 found using data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which releases yearly statistics on crime statewide.

The data indicate that overall violent crime increased to 17,631 offenses in 2021, up from 12,406 in 2018, a 42% spike. That's a big increase since the year before Ellison took office, just not as big as Schultz says.

The Schultz campaign said it pulled the 63% figure from one subset of violent crime, aggravated assault. The overall data also include murder, rape, and robbery.

Murders increased by 93% since 2018. Robberies were up 35%. Rapes declined by 7%, according to state data.

Ellison's ad

Ellison uses his own ad to defend his record on violent crime.

"As attorney general, I hired more criminal prosecutors to work with law enforcement all across Minnesota and take on the most serious crimes," he says.

This characterization is misleading in two ways, FOX 9 found. First, it overstates the attorney general's limited role in prosecuting criminal cases.

In Minnesota, counties handle most criminal prosecutions. The attorney general can only take a criminal case when a county attorney asks for help or when the governor takes a case away from a county.

Ellison also doesn't say how many criminal prosecutors he's added, and that's important context. As of this summer, three criminal attorneys worked in the attorney general's office, up from one when Ellison took the job.

Neither Ellison nor Schultz say three criminal prosecutors is enough.

Schultz has called for 30 by reassigning attorneys who are currently assigned to business regulatory cases. A spokesman for Ellison has said Schultz would struggle to shift enough attorneys to criminal cases while still upholding his duty to defend state laws related to consumer protection, utilities, and charitable gaming.

Meanwhile, Ellison asked lawmakers this year for $1.8 million to hire seven new criminal prosecutors and increase the unit to 10 attorneys. Republican lawmakers turned down the request, saying Ellison's current budget is enough.

The ad's other claim comes from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, one of nine county attorneys who endorsed Ellison last week. "He hasn’t lost a case," Freeman says, echoing an assertion that Ellison himself has made recently.

It's true that Ellison's office hasn't lost a criminal case over the past four years. But here again, because of the attorney general's limited role in criminal prosecutions, there isn't a big sample size: just 43 cases involving charges.

Ellison's staff say 26 of those cases ended in convictions. Seventeen are still active. 

FOX 9 Fact Check: Here's our rating system

  • True: accurate information that requires little or no additional context
  • Needs clarification: mostly accurate information that leaves out context that would be helpful to voters
  • Not the whole story: the information presented leaves out a significant amount of context that could lead voters to a different conclusion
  • Misleading: partial information presented in a way that misleads voters
  • False: inaccurate information, or information presented out of context

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