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Meet the Hennepin County Attorney candidate: Ryan Winkler

The Majority Leader of the DFL-led Minnesota House of Representatives says partnership building and focusing prosecutorial resources on violent crime will steady public safety in the county. 

Ryan Winkler sees connecting with community organizations that offer culturally specific and community-based initiatives as one way to curb crime.
Ryan Winkler sees connecting with community organizations that offer culturally specific and community-based initiatives as one way to curb crime.
Courtesy of the Winkler campaign

As Ryan Winkler looked on with the rest of the world as Minneapolis seized with civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, he knew he wanted to prevent it from happening again and came to this realization: 

“I realized how important leadership is at the local level in order to make our public safety system work,” Winkler said. “Without the ability to work seamlessly with other agencies and departments, our public safety system leaves big gaps.”

If Winkler gets the electoral nod and becomes Hennepin County Attorney, he said he would immediately begin closing gaps between agencies on all levels of government that operate in the county. With a relationship established and contingency plans in tow, Winkler said if a civil uprising did occur under his watch, he’d be able to help snuff out unrest from the attorney’s office. 

Winkler, 46, is the Majority Leader of the DFL-led Minnesota House of Representatives, a position he believes has equipped him with the ability to organize various agencies in order to carry out coordinated efforts, even in scenes like the days following George’s death. (Winkler opted against running for reelection in the Minnesota House to pursue the county attorney’s office.) The Bemidji native and Golden Valley resident also believes his experience qualifies him to “run a large public law office like the Hennepin County Attorney’s office.”

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There are things that Winkler sees at the current attorney’s office that he thinks are working. For example, he likes how sitting county attorney Mike Freeman– who is not seeking reelection – places attorneys with police departments to help investigate certain cases, including carjacking. 

One area where there’s room for improvement, Winkler said, is building trust with both communities and police departments throughout the county. 

“Right now, there is a deep distrust of the county attorney’s office by police departments in Hennepin County,” Winkler said. “That does not mean all prosecutors in the office. That means there has been a lack of conversation and engagement — a lack of confidence in the leadership in the county attorney’s office.”

That same engagement approach, one that addresses problems alongside residents, is how Winkler aims to reverse distrust among residents in the county. He said he’d show up in every community, “whether it’s the suburbs or whether it’s on the North Side of Minneapolis or with immigrant communities,” by setting up regular community meetings and town halls, attending community festivals and events, and talking with people who are “hearing and seeing” what’s going on in their neighborhoods. 

Winkler sees connecting with community organizations that offer culturally specific and community-based initiatives as a way to also curb crime. Such groups, Winkler said, can help the Hennepin County Attorney’s office create programs that support youth who are in trouble by offering mentorship and job training. Winkler also wants the attorney’s office to invest in diversion programs for people suffering from mental health and chemical dependency issues. 

For stopping the recent waves of violent crime, Winkler said the key is marshaling resources to focus on ending the trend. 

“I think using limited prosecution resources to prosecute cannabis possession and sale is a waste,” Winkler said. He added that he’s also not interested in prosecuting women and doctors if Minnesota’s abortion laws were to become more restrictive. 

The resources at the county attorney’s disposal should go toward investigating violent crimes, Winkler said. He acknowledges that police forces across the county are down officers. Because of this, partnership and coordination between jurisdictions will be key in slowing issues like street racing. The number one priority Winkler singled out, though, is violent crimes involving guns. 

“We have to bring tools together and target the limited law enforcement resources we have to the greatest need, which I would consider to be violent crimes, especially involving guns,” Winkler said.