Twin Cities law enforcement, prosecutors discuss alternatives to arrests

Law enforcement and prosecutors in Hennepin and Ramsey counties are coming together to look at alternatives to arrest and prosecution.

“This is not about being soft on crime, this is being smart on crime,” said St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell.

Twin Cities police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors announced in a press conference Thursday they are trying to change tactics to prevent massive overcrowding at the jails and prisons. 

“We are truly looking for alternatives to arrest and detention,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

“More than 50 percent of the people in Sheriff Stanek’s jail have profound mental health issues or addiction issues,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Half of the 2 million people locked up nationwide need help more than punishment and the outcomes are usually better.

“The number one outcome that we all agree on is we want better public safety,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “None of us here are dumb enough to believe we get there just by arresting and prosecuting people.”

Choi hosted 100 law enforcement and prosecutors in St. Paul to hear from professor and former cop Ronal Serpas, who says law enforcement needs alternatives to arrest. Serpas has been leading this approach nationwide the past three years.

“Clearly our jails should not be filled with the people we’re mad at, our jails should be filled with the people we’re afraid of,” said Serpas.

Examples in place already include lighter prosecution on lower level drug crimes. Hennepin County is looking at adding 150 mental health beds at their workhouse in Plymouth. St. Paul police now train every officer in crisis intervention to understand not every situation should be handled the same way.

“We keep doing the same thing and expecting different results - that’s the definition of insanity,” said Choi.