Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek will be among 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and community activists who will meet with President Obama on Thursday to discuss reducing incarcerations while protecting public safety.

The new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, is a partnership to push reforms. Members of the group include the heads of the six largest U.S. cities, the National District Attorneys Association and B. Todd Jones, who has served as U.S. attorney in Minnesota and as director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Stanek said the group still believes lawbreakers, especially those who commit violent crimes, should be held accountable and locked up. But fewer arrests can be better in certain situations, he said.

"Give us alternatives to booking people into jail," he said. "Law enforcement will use their discretion."

The group was launched at a time when crime in the U.S. is at its lowest levels in half a century, but the country's incarceration rate is the highest in the world, Stanek said.

The multipronged approach will focus on four strategies:

• Increasing alternatives to arrest and prosecution, such as mental health and drug treatment.

• Reducing the severity of criminal laws by reclassifying some felonies to misdemeanors or removing criminal sanctions where appropriate.

• Reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum laws that require overly harsh arbitrary sentences for crimes.

• Strengthening ties between law enforcement agencies and communities.

Lower incarceration rates don't make the community less safe, Stanek said. The burgeoning growth of jail and prison populations can be partly linked to better technology that gets officers to crime scenes more quickly.

The group is seeing support from leaders nationwide.

"Too many Americans, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, are being torn apart by our overly punitive justice system," said Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP. "Seeing law enforcement officials from across the country come together to address problems in the justice system sends a powerful message. We welcome these leaders to our efforts."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465