Ramsey County sheriff predicts 'dramatic increase in crime' if Minneapolis ballot question passes

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher used a legislative hearing Thursday to predict what would happen if Minneapolis voters pass the city's police charter amendment next month.

"We are all expecting dramatic increases in crime in Minneapolis and in St. Paul," Fletcher told two Senate committees.

Minneapolis voters face the question of whether to eliminate the police department from the city charter and allow future city councils and mayors to decide how to staff a new public safety agency.

Fletcher was one of five law enforcement officials invited by Republican senators to testify about an increase in violent crime across the state. In 2020, violent crime rose 17 percent in Minnesota, according to state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data released earlier this year.

Fletcher called for tougher penalties on suspects who flee officers on the wrong side of the road, asked for an exemption in state privacy laws to place tracking devices on stolen cars, and said the State Patrol's helicopter should be up more frequently over the Twin Cities.

Maple Grove Police Chief Eric Werner and Chisago County Sheriff Brandon Thyen raised concerns about the pace of officer resignations, while St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson sought additional state funding for mental health crisis teams because of the violent crime that stems from domestic abuse and mental illness.

"If I wanted to be a mental health professional, I would’ve gone to medical school and been a psychiatrist," Anderson said. "But when we get those encounters wrong, we’re vilified as being incompetent. That is not something that’s in our wheelhouse."

Democrats questioned why the GOP chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Transportation committees didn't invite advocates for domestic abuse victims or mental illness experts to testify.

"Where are the other co-partners in this hearing? You didn’t bring them here today," said state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove. "They should be here. Because they’re their partners."

Republicans who control the Senate did not say what legislation they would bring during the 2022 legislative session, which starts in January.

Gov. Tim Walz said he wanted to see "concrete plans" from the divided Legislature.

"It will be interesting if this is a decision to talk politically about it, or a decision to talk about solutions – because I’m very interested in talking about those," Walz told reporters during a COVID-19 event in Stillwater.