ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - An increase in violent crime across Minnesota is certain to be a key issue in the 2022 midterm elections, and both parties say they'll try to address the crime wave during this year's legislative session.
Monday, Democrats who control the House released a $100 million public safety proposal that includes funding for community violence prevention programs, community policing, and investigations. Republicans in charge of the Senate have rolled out plans to impose minimum sentences for carjackings and to blame county attorneys for declining to prosecute some offenders.
While crime has increased statewide, Republicans have zeroed in on spikes in the Twin Cities Metro, where murders and carjackings have hit records. Underscoring the potency of public safety, former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek told FOX 9 on Monday that he's considering a run for governor as a Republican on a law and order platform. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is running for a second term this fall.
Before the campaign season, lawmakers have one last chance to address crime concerns when they return to the state Capitol on Jan. 31 for a nearly four-month session.
House Democrats' proposal includes $40 million for grants to nonprofit violence interruptors and police agencies that deploy mental health responders to some crisis calls. It also calls for $22 million for community-based policing and another $22 million for investigators. DFL lawmakers could not say how many new officers the money would hire.
"We took a look at what some local agencies have in terms of resources," state Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, told reporters. "This is a dollar amount that we think will be supportive and helpful to those particular agencies."
Republicans said the grants would not make a meaningful impact to curb crime.
Senate Republicans, who plan to release their session priorities on Wednesday, have already outlined several proposals they plan to push this session. They said they would attempt to weaken the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which recently shelved a plan to reduce sentences for some offenders who commit new crimes while on probation.
State Sen. Paul Gazelka, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor, has proposed higher minimum sentences for offenders who commit new crimes while carrying a gun.
"We have one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country," Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters this month. "That’s fine as long as crime isn’t sky high. But crime is sky high in Minnesota. So I think we need to do a little more of the incarceration."
The two parties also differ on how to address recruitment and retention issues that police chiefs say have left their agencies near the breaking point.
Gazelka said he would propose sign-on bonuses for new cops. Suburban House Democrats are backing a cadet program, which would allow police departments to recruit in high schools and bring young people into the agency while they get law enforcement training.
DFL state Rep. Heather Edelson and GOP state Rep. Paul Novotny have introduced two bills together. One would force juveniles who steal cars onto electronic home monitoring before they enter a diversion program. The other would allow the Minnesota Commerce Department's Fraud Bureau to help local police investigate stolen cars and carjackings.
"This is my number one issue. Absolutely, solving crime," Edelson, DFL-Edina, said in an interview. "And I can tell you, residents in Minnesota are gonna say this is their number one issue."