Republican state lawmakers unveiled a set of public safety proposals Monday aimed squarely at the Twin Cities, clashing with both mayors over police strategies for addressing crime on light-rail trains and around entertainment venues.
Dubbed "Safety In Our Cities," the GOP proposal includes additional resources for Metro Transit police to respond to a significant increase in crime on trains and buses. It also contains a requirement that cities with "regional or statewide sports and entertainment facilities" have an "adequate" number of police officers near those venues or risk losing state Local Government Aid.
"Frankly, I don't think that people's safety when they visit Minneapolis and St. Paul is a partisan issue," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. "We think that everyone has a right to feel safe in these cities, whether you live here, work here, visit here, whatever the situation may be, we feel that you have a right to be safe in these cities."
Roughly a dozen state lawmakers, joined by Minneapolis Police Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the police union, painted a picture of violent gang and drug activity deterring residents from the suburbs or outstate from visiting the Twin Cities for sporting events or other activities.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who sat among reporters during Monday's news conference, at one point interrupted the GOP lawmakers to describe as "not true" Daudt's statement that the mayor refused to increase the number of sworn officers in the city's last budget.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has called for 400 additional sworn officers to the force by 2025 to keep pace with population trends. Frey instead added a new recruitment class of cadets — which will range from 20 to 40 officers, the mayor said — that is expected to bring the force closer to its currently approved size of 888.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Frey criticized House Republicans as trafficking in "misinformation" in describing their criminal justice proposals and for not reaching out to local government officials to discuss them.
"This speaks to lack of collaboration in government, this speaks to a lack of transparency in the facts and this speaks to an attempt to divide urban and rural areas against each other," Frey said.
Frey later got into a verbal confrontation with Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, a retired law enforcement officer. "The people deserve to hear the truth," Frey said, patting Grossell on the shoulder. "So do that for me."
"Don't touch me," Grossell shot back in an encounter that was captured on television. "Stop lying. Stop lying to your community. Stop putting your community in danger. Stop tying the hands of your law enforcement."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter cast the proposals as "cheap and misleading political games." In a statement, Carter said that he is "ready to work with any legislator earnestly interested in improving public safety," including "universal background checks" — a key DFL priority — to curb illegal gun trafficking.
Metro Transit rider safety has come into sharp focus this session amid a 35% spike in violent crime on buses and trains last year. The agency is planning to spend $1.8 million this year to cover an additional 20,000 hours of police patrols on trains and buses. DFL lawmakers are also proposing decriminalizing fare dodging because a tiny fraction of $180 misdemeanor penalties are being prosecuted.
A bill would drop that to a $25 petty misdemeanor fine that could be enforced by civilian "ambassadors" and paid online. House Republicans' proposals on Monday would not decriminalize any fare penalties. Instead, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, would establish a rider code of conduct for all light-rail platforms, add more Metro Transit police and install interactive cameras on light-rail platforms.
The package of GOP proposals also includes measures to increase penalties for gang members who use firearms in crimes. It also provides more money for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate gangs and drug trafficking.
Both Frey and state Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat who chairs the House public safety committee, criticized the GOP effort to link local government aid to police staffing requirements, calling the Republican proposal an example of heavy handed big government. "It seems to me that their proposals really are about mandating from afar to certain communities what thou shalt do, and it's not going to be effective," Mariani said. "I have every reason to want to have public safety be effective in my community and my family."