The Minneapolis city attorney’s office plans to start a new program that would give its prosecutors more oversight in filing charges for misdemeanor crimes — an effort officials say will cut down on some arrests that are quickly deemed not to have merit.
City Attorney Susan Segal detailed the plans in a presentation to the City Council on Friday. It was the first of several hearings in which department leaders are highlighting and answering questions about their portions of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ proposed $1.2 billion budget plan for next year.
Segal’s office wants to add $568,000 to its $9 million budget, most of it for criminal prosecutions. The largest chunk of the money, $248,000, would be used to launch a two-year pilot project in which the office would take over responsibility for charging misdemeanor crimes from the Police Department, which currently has the ability to issue a citation or begin the charging process when a suspect is brought to jail. The money would be used to hire two additional prosecutors.
Segal said her office would be able to provide feedback to individual officers about what’s needed to move a case forward — and prevent people from ending up with a record for charges that would likely be dropped.
“This would [keep] people from getting that charge on their record just to have it dismissed and avoid that collateral consequence,” she said.
She said it’s possible the program will have enough of an effect on the way police officers make arrests that the program could be completed after its two-year pilot run.
In a similar effort, Segal wants to expand diversion and alternative sentencing programs for people arrested for driving offenses, obstruction and carrying guns without a permit. She said the process of turning up for hearings and paying fines for a driving offense can often be a crippling burden for low-income people.
“We’ve had some cases where people have owed as much as $10,000 or more,” she said.
The mayor’s budget calls for an additional $15,000 to fund a diversion program that allows people to set up a payment plan and eventually get their license reinstated. Segal said it’s already had 2,800 participants, and three-quarters of them were people of color.
The city’s Health Department is seeking $578,000 in new spending, with the largest portions going toward lead testing ($110,000), youth violence prevention support for parents of teenagers ($75,000) and training and outreach work on business licensing and health requirements for small businesses and immigrant-run businesses ($75,000). Another $50,000 would be used to launch a 4-H program for Somali students and $25,000 for a program that provides intervention services to young people injured by violence.
A smaller allocation, $12,500 for 10 new chairs in the downtown Skyway Senior Center, prompted criticism from Council Member Lisa Goodman. She warned that the council should be wary of setting aside money for a facility facing an uncertain future. The center is supported by UCare and Augustana Care, but insurance company UCare recently lost contracts with the state and is expecting to make significant cuts to its operations.
Goodman also cautioned that the council should be careful with its allocations to help nongovernment nonprofits, which often turn to the city when they lose federal or state funding. She suggested that the council should make those funding decisions together, through a competitive process, rather than allowing each department to include its own requests.
“There’s always going to be another level of government that’s going to screw us and give us less money, and all of these nonprofits are going to be coming to us at the end of the funding totem pole,” Goodman said.