Two proposed law enforcement training centers are dueling for funding at the Legislature, with local officials stressing the structures’ differences as they seek to justify having two multimillion-dollar facilities in the metro area.
Dakota County officials say there’s desperate need for the $13.2 million SMART Center, a space dedicated to training officers in cultural sensitivity and handling mental health emergencies.
Meanwhile, east metro city leaders tout the necessity of the $19.8 million HERO Center, a years-long effort by Cottage Grove and Woodbury. With its reality-based training rooms and shooting range, it would be like nothing else in the area, officials said.
But some worry that perceived similarities between the two hubs may leave one or both without enough money to move forward.
“That’s a fear that we have,” said Cmdr. Kris Mienert of the Woodbury Public Safety Department. “What if SMART gets half their funding and HERO gets half their funding?”
Supporters say their facilities address crucial training needs, and that the two are unique enough in scope to make both worthwhile.
“We’re going to have to stand on our own merits,” said Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie. “I hope they get funding, too.”
Local officials are asking the state for half of the total cost, with local government picking up the rest.
Several legislators said the centers — which would be located about 8 miles apart — both have a solid chance of getting funding.
“I do not view them as competitors,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, chairman of the House capital investment committee.
Though the projects aren’t in Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed bonding bill, Dayton spokesman Sam Fettig called both important and said the governor will try to include them in the final bill.
“Field of dreams”
The concept of a SMART Center — which stands for Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training — arose after Dakota County officials took stock of space needs in 2017, Leslie said.
The center would emphasize mental health crisis intervention training, which Leslie called the “most pressing issue facing law enforcement today.”
“You really don’t reach a saturation point with this,” he added.
The Drug Crimes Task Force and the Electronic Crimes Unit need additional square footage, too, Leslie said.
Crisis Intervention Training, a local vendor that conducts reality-based mental health crisis training, lacks a home base, so the center would house it as well.
Dakota County would match the $6.6 million funding request. The 35,000-square-foot building is planned for Inver Grove Heights, near Hwy. 55 and Concord Boulevard.
For years, Woodbury police scrounged for places to train, using everything from the wing of a local hotel to a dilapidated farmhouse. “We really have to beg, borrow and steal for spaces,” said Mienert.
Woodbury and Cottage Grove would split the $9.9 million cost left after the state’s contribution to the HERO (Health and Emergency Response Occupations) Center.
Multiple state reports have noted regional training centers exist in Edina, Maple Grove, Jordan and Brooklyn Park, but no hub exists in the eastern suburbs.
Maplewood and Oakdale pledged support for the project while other cities say they would likely use it, Mienert said: “It’s almost like the field of dreams — if we build it, they will come.”
The 47,308-square-foot center, slated for 85th St. South and County Road 19 in Cottage Grove, would feature a response-to-resistance training pod outfitted with mats, an outdoor training area, several mock jail cells and virtual reality rooms.
Charlene Stevens, city administrator in Cottage Grove, noted that the Legislature already allocated $1.46 million in 2015 to HERO to draw up blueprints, signaling its support.
Parallels exist between the two proposed centers, including a regional focus and space for reality-based training, which involves actors simulating true-to-life scenarios. Each would offer training opportunities not just for police but also firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Advocates for each project said their center would provide space for state-mandated training in conflict management, mental health crisis response and implicit bias.
Police training, especially in areas like use of force and conflict resolution, is under a national spotlight, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “There’s a renewed emphasis on good training, innovative training across the country and a lot of it is based on questioning conventional thinking,” he said. “Clearly Minnesota would be one of the leading states that is focusing on this.”
Not all such facilities get the money they seek. The SCALE Regional Training Facility in Scott County opened in 2008. The state provided $3 million of its $11 million price tag over three bonding cycles. “We had hoped for a 50/50 match and never received it,” said Mike Briese, the center’s manager.
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, chairman of the Senate capital investment committee, said both facilities had merit, but he raised another question.
“Honestly, if we do a project, we may want some level of consolidation here,” Senjem said. “How can these things come together?”