Hennepin County leaders host town hall on juvenile crime

Community members in Rogers had an opportunity to get answers about juvenile crime directly from public officials during a town hall meeting Saturday morning.

A panel of officials, including Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette, Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Catherine Johnson, and Rogers Police Department Captain Jeff Beck, came together to discuss juvenile crime.

They say they’re working in unison to adapt to evolving crime patterns in juveniles. However, it was clear there were some differing opinions.

"If we send him to prison right now, what we’re saying is we’re not really looking for rehabilitation, we’re concerned with retribution and punishment," Moriarty told FOX 9 after the meeting.

"People need to be held accountable," Sheriff Witt said. "We do also need to make sure that we are looking at rehabilitative services, but we still need accountability for those acts that have been committed."

The biggest talker at the meeting came when a community member asked about the state’s school resource officer (SRO) conundrum. Several law enforcement agencies removed their SROs this school year after a new law did not allow school employees or resource officers to put a student in certain physical holds, including the prone position. Some agencies said the changes cause confusion, significant concerns, and could limit how peace officers can do their jobs if a situation at school becomes unsafe. 

Attorney General Keith Ellison has recently issued a legal interpretation or clarification about the law, but Moriarty then sent police chiefs and county sheriffs her own view, which contradicts Ellison's. 

"The legislature does not want police to put kids in prone restraints," she said during Saturday’s meeting.

Witt stood her ground, asserting that officers have a duty to intervene with the least amount of force necessary to get control, regardless of age, "It doesn’t work that way. We are talking about people who are out of control. That’s not what we want to do, but we have to do what we need to do to keep people safe. It’s not about hurting students," Witt said.

"I can’t see us standing by until it gets to a certain extent before we intervene. That makes absolutely no sense," Witt finished.