In recent weeks Minnesotans received new data on violent crime in our state, and in light of such reports it is time to again consider what needs to be done going forward to respond to what is among the most violent periods in the state's history.
Recently the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension released its report showing an 8.6% decrease in violent crime in 2022 compared with 2021. In Minneapolis, a Star Tribune piece notes that murders this year are down 33% compared to 2022.
Yet violent crime is still dramatically higher than pre-2020. For example, murders statewide in 2022 were still 75% higher than in 2019 and murders in Minneapolis this year are nearly 50% higher than in 2019. We shouldn't ignore the recent improvements that have taken place, but we must acknowledge that we have a very long way to go before we again have a state delivering the public safety Minnesotans deserve.
So where do we go from here?
A Star Tribune piece from early September covering positive trends on crime is instructive in revealing the near-total absence of any contributions to reducing crime from state authorities.
With the exception of a package passed last legislative session providing incremental funding for localities to deal with crime, Tim Walz and the DFL-controlled Legislature have been missing in action on the issue. That is unacceptable, and state authorities must respond to the ongoing crime crisis by undertaking a series of critical efforts.
First, many prosecutors are still not prosecuting criminals. Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty — who seems to have never found a criminal not worthy of leniency — is the example par excellence. When you have a prosecutor in a major county who makes Attorney General Keith Ellison look modestly responsible, you have a problem. Similarly, we continue to have judges imposing punishment inconsistent with the gravity of crimes.
We should respond by reforming our state's recall statutes. Under Minnesota's recall process it is extremely difficult — in fact, almost impossible — to recall an official who has not committed outright crimes but who is unfit for office nonetheless. Minnesota should change its recall statutes to make it realistically feasible to remove a failing prosecutor or judge. This step will encourage prosecutors and judges to execute their duties in the public interest and provide a mechanism to remove those who are grossly negligent or incompetent.
Second, an effective crime strategy starts with effective police forces, and we must deal with the extraordinarily inadequate number of police officers in Minnesota. The Minneapolis police force is still down at least 200 officers, St. Paul's police force is down 60 officers, and police departments statewide are struggling to retain and hire the officers they need. Many potential peace officers understandably ask themselves why they would enter the profession when for years they have seen near nonstop hostility to law enforcement from many leaders in the state.
Tim Walz, who appears more willing by the day to meet any demand from the far-left of his party, should try something new: He should lead. He should stand up to the large contingent of his party hostile to law enforcement and forcefully defend the critical importance of police officers for the future of our state. He needs to make clear that Minnesota will never again experiment with reckless and morally bankrupt efforts like defunding the police. One good first step would be to call a special session to get school resource officers back in our schools.
Finally, a discussion of crime in Minnesota is incomplete without a discussion of drugs. Nearly 1,000 Minnesotans were lost to opioids in 2021, an astonishing 400% increase since 2010. And although it is a mistake to view opioid use and addiction solely as a criminal issue, the drug trade is closely tied to violent crime.
The state must dedicate dramatically more resources to reduce the supply of fentanyl, including by funding local and statewide police departments in arresting and prosecuting traffickers. Alongside this, comparable resources must be spent to reduce the demand for fentanyl, including by funding treatment centers, mental health care and programs in our schools to reach our kids.
The human toll of the opioid epidemic is immense, with the toll counted in both the users and their families and communities. But one gets the sense that many state officials treat it like any other ordinary problem in the state. The epidemic is unique and massive, and we must address it with an all-of-government response to the issue.
Minnesota continues to lose immense numbers of our citizens to the scourges of crime and drugs. Amid any improvement, we need to be honest that we have a long way to go. Taking the necessary steps to deliver the safety Minnesotans deserve is a moral imperative we cannot ignore.
Jim Schultz is president and CEO of the Minnesota Private Business Council. He was the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2022.