Monday, a group of House Republicans gathered to announce a batch of bills they said would address growing crime in Minneapolis and St. Paul. “Minnesotans are worried about the increase in crime, and, unfortunately, there’s been a reluctance by our city leaders to take meaningful steps to address it,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
“This is not just an issue for residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Daudt continued. “We all represent constituents who travel to the cities to visit family and friends, who work, who go to sporting events, who go to concerts. And they all worry about their safety.”
While it isn’t uncommon for one group to follow another to the podium at the state Capitol after such events, the latter usually wait for the former to finish talking.
Not this time. Almost before Daudt could complete his opening statement, Daudt was interrupted — by someone sitting among Capitol reporters.
“Not true,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey of Daudt’s claim that both city mayors had rebuffed requests by their police chiefs to add officers to their forces.
Tying LGA to ‘adequate’ law enforcement
Joining the GOP House members at the Monday news conference was someone who has feuded with Frey in the past, someone who is a frequent political target of left-leaning residents of the city Frey leads: Minneapolis Police Officer Federation President Bob Kroll.
This time, Kroll was not part of the fireworks. Kroll, who made a prominent appearance at President Donald’s Trump Minneapolis campaign rally last year, made only brief and rather tame remarks, calling for bipartisan responses to crime.
“There’s a reason that the police chiefs of both Minneapolis and St. Paul have asked for additional resources and additional officers,” he said. “Increasing crime means officers spend more time responding to 911 calls and less time developing positive interactions with the communities that they serve.”
“Public safety should be a bipartisan issue here at the Capitol,” said Kroll, who is a lieutenant in the MPD. Among other things, the House GOP bills, which have yet to be introduced, would:
- boost criminal penalties for gang members who use firearms in commission of a crime;
- increase funding for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to combat gang violence and drug trafficking;
- require cities with regional sports and entertainment facilities to have adequate law enforcement near those venues or risk losing local government aid;
- increase the number of sworn officers for Metro Transit police, increase enforcement of fare evasion, and install interactive cameras on light rail platforms.
Addressing the proposal to tie Local Government Aid to the presence of law enforcement at sports and entertainment facilities, Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said: “Minnesota taxpayers should be able to attend the facilities they have helped build and pay for without fearing for our safety.”
Demuth added that her family attends day games at Target Field, “partially out of concerns with being downtown late into the evening.”
A 2020 election issue
Republicans are in the minority in the House, and the proposals are unlikely to get much traction there. But GOP lawmakers control the state Senate, where “violence prevention” is one of the planks of their 2020 agenda.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that agenda includes boosting pay for state troopers, and also stiffening penalties for what are called straw purchases of firearms — when someone who is not prohibited from buying a gun transfers a firearm to someone with a felony conviction.
But Gazelka said his caucus will also use its “bully pulpit” to ask the question about police staffing in the two biggest cities in the state. “Their police chief said, ‘We need more police,’ so what are you doing about it,” Gazelka said.
He also didn’t rule out legislation related to how Local Government Aid money is spent. “LGA began as a resource for police and fire but it’s become much broader than that,” he said. “We don’t want them to miss the core function of it.”
Running against big cities has long been a chapter in the Republican campaign playbook. It is especially potent when there are no Republicans elected from those cities, as in the case in Minnesota.
On Monday, Daudt objected to the suggestion that there were partisan political implications of the GOP proposals. “We have been talking about this issue for some time,” he said. “We passed some of these bills in the past. I don’t think that people’s safety when they visit Minneapolis and St. Paul is a partisan issue. We think everyone has a right to feel safe in these cities whether you live here, work here, visit here. You have a right to be safe.”
There were, however, messages that served to portray Minneapolis as out of touch with the rest of the state. Daudt even cited bike lanes and plastic straw bans as examples. “When people want to talk about plastic straws and plastic bags and closing down lanes of traffic to put in more bike paths, those things are all great when your streets are perfect and your streets are safe and when your kids are educated,” Daudt said.
When he was asked whether bike lanes come from the same pool of money as police, Daudt said: “Nope. But it will make a good sound bite on the news tonight.”
Frey: ‘an attempt to divide urban and rural voters’
As soon as the GOP news conference ended, Frey went to the podium and directed TV videographers to stay put; he had something to say. “It was stated just a moment ago by Rep. Daudt that he was just trying for a sound bite on the media, and that is exactly the case,” Frey said. “They were right about one thing: Safety is not a partisan issue. The sad state of politics right now, especially with the Republican Legislature, is they are trying to make it into one.”
Frey noted that the GOP did not reach out to him or St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter or other cities represented by the League of Minnesota Cities in creating their proposals. “This speaks to a lack of collaboration in government, this speaks to the lack of transparency in the facts, and this speaks to an attempt to divide urban and rural voters against each other,” he said.
The first-term mayor also said Daudt was wrong in saying that there was no money for additional police in Minneapolis’ 2020 budget. And in regard to concerns raised by the professional sports franchises about safety around stadiums, Frey said the city is working with the Vikings, Twins and Timberwolves to address their concerns.
Frey also said that how cities spend money should be decided by city elected officials, not state lawmakers. “This is called Local Government Aid,” he said. “This is not called state dictated aid.”
Frey has taken political heat from both his left and his right on the issue of policing. During his 2017 campaign, he called for hiring more beat cops and was criticized by other candidates for doing so.
And while his 2020 budget request did include some additional officers, it did not come close to the staffing suggestion by his chief, Medaria Arradondo, who sought to increase the force from 880 commissioned officers to 1,000 or more. Even so, during his most recent budget presentation, Frey was heckled by activists who want less police presence in Minneapolis, not more.
The city budget does include a third recruit class for new cops, up from two. But many of those will replace retiring police officers rather than grow the force. While some might help to add to the force, it won’t surpass the approved level of 880 officers.
In St. Paul, requests by Police Chief Todd Axtell for more officers, as well as the installation of Shotspotter, a system to locate and detect gunfire, were rebuffed by Carter. In a statement released Monday afternoon, Carter said “the future we deserve can neither be built on failed strategies from the ‘80s nor on cheap and misleading political games.”
Carter said the city’s overall crime rates are at a 25-year low, but added, “Clearly we have more work to do; particularly in light of a heartbreaking series of gun-related homicides last fall.
“To meet these challenges, we have increased our number of police officers to its highest point in city history while investing in proven community-based interventions that connect residents to stability,” Carter said. “I stand ready to work with any legislator earnestly interested in improving public safety outcomes and look forward to discussing common-sense legislation, like universal background checks, that will help stop the flow of illegal guns into our communities before a crime is ever committed.”
Frey ended his impromptu press conference by responding to a bill offered by Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, that would prohibit cities from disarming police officers who are in good standing. That bill, House File 698, was drafted in response to a comment that Rep. Raymond Dehn made to a questionnaire during his run for Minneapolis mayor in 2017. While Dehn later tried to clarify his comment, the two-words that stuck were “disarm officers,” and there have also been student campaigns to disarm officers at the University of Minnesota.
“I have never advocated for that. That’s just silly,” Frey said.
As he was leaving the conference, though, Frey ran into Grossell, a retired police officer, in the hallway. Video captured by KARE 11 reporter John Croman showed a walking debate between the two.
“The people deserve to hear the truth, so next time do that for me,” Frey said, patting Grossell on the shoulder.
“Don’t touch me,” Grossell said as Frey walked away.
Grossell then circled back. “Stop lying to your community and stop putting your community in danger,” he told Frey. “Stop tying the hands of your law enforcement. Talk to your officers on the ground.”
Rep. Matt Grossell and Mpls Mayor Jacob Frey continue conversation at Capitol. Frey tells Grossell Republicans need to stick to facts; Grossell tells Frey to stop lying pic.twitter.com/BHvklJr2sV
— John Croman (@JohnCroman) February 17, 2020