The police chiefs of Hennepin County have openly expressed dissatisfaction with the county attorney's handling of criminal cases amid a violent crime surge.

In a letter to County Attorney Mike Freeman on Wednesday, the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association (HCCPA), which represents most departments in the county including Minneapolis, said police feel that people arrested for crimes are not being held accountable for their actions.

The association laid out recommendations its members believe would end the upward trend in violent crime, such as: The County Attorney's Office should prosecute people arrested for violent crimes; suspects arrested for violent crimes should be required to see a judge to set their bail, and the county should stop allowing suspects of violent crime "sign and release warrants," which don't require the suspect's arrest.

"Very consistently our officers and investigators arrest criminals only to receive notification that those arrested will not be charged with their crimes," wrote the HCCPA's president, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, in the letter. "There is an expectation that law enforcement will arrest criminals for their behavior. There must be the same expectation that those criminals be aggressively charged and prosecuted for their behavior as well."

The letter comes amid an increase in violent crime in Minneapolis and suburban cities alike. In Minneapolis, the city logged more than 650 gunshot victims — a 168% increase. In 2021, there were 97 homicides, according to a Star Tribune database, tying a record set in 1995, when the city had fewer residents. While some less serious crimes receded, robberies and carjackings skyrocketed last year, a problem that has spread to the suburbs.

Just last week, the statewide Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association also sent a letter to both Freeman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi with a similar message of concern "that at a time of unprecedented increasing crime rates, prosecutorial policies are failing to hold criminals accountable for their actions."

The state association notified Freeman and Choi that it is seeking legislative authors to write a bill requiring county attorneys to provide data to the Legislature about felony-level offenses that go uncharged.

"My office's priority remains focused on supporting the victims of these crimes and the impact of these crimes on the safety of our neighborhoods," Freeman said in a statement Thursday. "We are charging and prosecuting both juveniles and adults to the fullest extent of the law. Our practice has always been to focus our limited resources on the most violent crimes first and that is what we are doing. ... We have been and will continue to work with our criminal justice partners to address the increased crime and to develop focused prevention strategies."

Choi said although he hadn't seen a copy of the bill described by the state association, he would support legislation meant to provide transparency around prosecutorial decisions. "A lot of these issues are really, really complex," he said. "I do think that what the chiefs are talking about — if I'm assuming their intent is to provide better education and understanding about the decisions and the things that happen in the justice system — [will] help the conversation get to a better place."

At the same time, Choi pushed back against the idea that County Attorney's Offices are unwilling to pursue charges. "If there's sufficient evidence to charge a case, we do. ... If there's a reason why we don't, I have been very transparent about it."

Among its recommendations to the county, the HCCPA also asked that the admission criteria for the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center be re-evaluated, citing that juveniles have contributed to the increase in violent crime.

"One of the criteria of the Juvenile Detention Center is that you can't bring an individual down who has stolen a car ... so we're trying to say, look, [juveniles] know this, at least in Hennepin County, they know that nothing is going to happen to them," Revering said in an interview. "So they're just continuing to reoffend."

In recent weeks, the county has assigned additional resources to prosecuting carjacking cases, the majority of which have involved juveniles. Freeman said last month that the charges in such cases are typically assault and aggravated robbery because carjackings involve force, often a firearm, to steal an occupied vehicle. Auto theft, however, is a nonviolent, low-level offense that involves an unoccupied vehicle.

The HCCPA recognizes that the Juvenile Detention Center's admission criteria isn't directly under Freeman's authority, Revering said, but included it in the letter to reflect the full scope of the associations recommendations. She said the same about bail reforms.

For its final recommendation, the HCCPA asked the County Attorney's Office to respect the work of law enforcement officers.

"We fully support the importance of holding law enforcement officers accountable when they do not perform as the community expects, including criminal charges when applicable," Revering wrote. "However, we also support recognizing when law enforcement is performed correctly and within the law and expect your office to do the same."

Revering is scheduled to meet with Freeman on behalf of the HCCPA next week, but she said Thursday that the exact date has yet to be determined.

Staff writer Kim Hyatt contributed to this report.