Gov. Tim Walz signaled the start of the fall gubernatorial campaign on Thursday with a news conference to highlight his crime-fighting credentials, an issue that his GOP opponent Scott Jensen wants to use to deny the governor a second term.
Standing outside U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, Walz was accompanied by a cadre of top state law enforcement leaders as he pledged to continue the "surge" of state aid to Minneapolis to fight gun violence, carjackings and other crimes.
"This unprecedented force will remain," said Walz, flanked by Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, State Patrol Col. Matt Langer and Metro Transit Patrol Operations Capt. Richard Raymond.
The news conference came two days after the primary in which both Walz, a DFLer, and Jensen, a former state senator, easily advanced to the November election.
Jensen said that while he has already released a public safety plan, Walz held a news conference that was a "nothingburger."
"What you heard from the governor is what you're going to keep getting," Jensen said. "I would ask the question: Do you feel safer now than you did three years ago? We have been extremely clear; we are going to treat this as the crisis that it is."
Walz said at his event that he wanted to acknowledge "what is obvious to everyone," that increases in violent crime are unacceptable. "The expectation that violent crimes will be reduced is a top priority," he said.
Walz said that the surge is working. State helicopters have been deployed and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has assigned investigators and analysts to help track guns and gang activity.
The Twin Cities area, like much of the country, has seen an increase in violent crime in the past two years.
In Minneapolis the problem is compounded by depletion in the ranks of the Police Department, which the city has been unable to replenish.
The MPD is down about 300 sworn officers from the nearly 900 on staff before the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in MPD custody. Officers left for other jobs, retired or received payouts for PTSD claims.
Jensen faulted Walz for failing to get more officers hired sooner. "Do it like private business would do, go out and beat the bushes harder," Jensen said.
He also sought to portray Walz as weak, saying the governor "froze" during the unrest in the aftermath of Floyd's death by failing to immediately deploy the National Guard and protect the Third Precinct building that was burned by protesters, and by allowing the Christopher Columbus statue at the Capitol to be pulled down.
Last month, Jensen said Walz should have deployed the Guard on July 4th in downtown Minneapolis after shootings and fireworks late on the night of that holiday.
"We've got to do something quickly," Jensen said. "We're losing control of downtown Minneapolis."
Standing at the light-rail station outside the stadium with Walz, Harrington struck a different tone, saying the state partnerships with local law enforcement and community members make the city safer. "I'm really feeling very comfortable here," Harrington said.
To bolster the city during the historically violent summer months, Walz in May provided the state Department of Public Safety with $4 million — $1 million each to the State Patrol and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to support the surge, and another $2 million in grants to assist state organizations helping Minneapolis.
"They are making a difference," Walz said of the state presence in the streets.
The governor said the surge would remain in place "as long as necessary." He didn't identify how he would define necessary.
He also made a direct pitch, especially to younger Minnesotans, that they consider law enforcement careers. "We need your help," he said. "Think about joining these forces."
The governor renewed a plea for the Legislature to come back in a special session to fund public safety. "Standing on the sideline second-guessing is not going to do it," Walz said.
A House-Senate public safety deal briefly in play during the legislative session included police recruitment and retention bonuses, millions of dollars to increase police skills training, money for violent crime enforcement teams statewide and a gunfire detection system for Ramsey County.
But like many other plans for spending the state's surplus, the $450 million public safety plan crumbled.