Ramsey County is planning to spend $6.03 million in public safety money from the state to fund four initiatives over the next four years: bail reform, a nonfatal shooting initiative, jail phone call charges and a Sheriff's Office employee assistance program.
The money comes from a $300 million package passed by the Legislature and signed into law to give one-time public safety funding to cities, counties and tribes based on population size.
The County Board approved the spending plan Tuesday.
Roughly $2 million of the money will fund a bail reform initiative. Scott Williams, deputy county manager of safety and justice, told commissioners that the idea is to shift who stays in jail after an arrest based on risk to the public and the chances of them showing up at a court appearance — instead of whether or not they can make bail.
The county has identified a risk assessment tool to be used at booking.
Williams said he expects the plan to result in fewer people spending even one night in jail, something that could help reduce the jail population modestly. The aim is to minimize the harm caused by incarceration, he said.
Under the plan, a navigator will also help connect people to mental health and addiction services and overcome barriers to appearing in court, such as transportation.
Nonfatal shooting initiative
Officials plan to put $1.8 million toward a nonfatal shooting initiative designed to decrease gun violence.
Ramsey County's homicide clearance rate has been between 85% and 95% in recent years, but the clearance rate for nonfatal shootings has been 33% or below.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he believes the county can get that number closer to 50% or even up to 60% if law enforcement has the resources to better investigate nonfatal shootings.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said arresting someone for a nonfatal shooting will likely help prevent more shootings down the road.
The money will cover costs including suburban police departments' participation, a dedicated investigator and expedited forensics weapons testing. It will also fund efforts to get victims and witnesses to cooperate with investigations by addressing their safety concerns.
"Oftentimes, the person who has been shot who is in the hospital, the investigator will go to them and ask them who shot them. They know who shot them, but they don't wish to tell us who that is," Choi said.
Phone call fee reductions
Another $1.6 million is set aside to reduce costs for inmates to make phone calls. While some calls are free, inmates are charged 15 cents per minute.
Undersheriff Kyle Mestad said the Sheriff's Office is exploring three different scenarios: free phone calls, reduced rates with two free phone calls per week, reduced rates with no free calls. An increasing number of jurisdictions are making phone calls more accessible to inmates so they can stay in touch with their families, which studies find improves public safety outcomes.
Sheriff's Office employee assistance
The final $600,000 is slated to expand services in the Sheriff's Office Employee Assistance Program to help staff with mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety and substance use disorder, as well as workplace and relationship issues.
The money would expand mental health supports to Sheriff's Office employees , including access to professionals and peer support, plus expand support to employees' families, among other programs.
Deputy Allison Schaber said there is demand for such supports: "People are struggling with increased alcohol use, substance abuse, depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts and ideations."