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Community grants, foot patrols and body cams: What gets funded in the DFL’s latest public safety plan

The $150 million plan for public safety is a major plank of how Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature hope to address crime.

state Rep. Cedrick Frazier
The bill sponsored by state Rep. Cedrick Frazier, second from right, would now spend $150 million on Democratic priorities, an increase that key legislators said was meant to help quickly respond to crime in hard-hit areas.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Minnesota lawmakers in the DFL-controlled House have introduced a huge slate of bills to address crime in the state this year. But their main spending plan — a roughly $100 million proposal that included $40 million for initiatives like community nonprofits doing violence intervention work — got an update on Thursday. 

The bill sponsored by Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, would now spend $150 million on Democratic priorities, an increase that key legislators said was meant to help quickly respond to crime in hard-hit areas. The new bill spends some additional money on policing, though the bulk of the extra cash proposed by DFLers would be for public safety efforts not directly tied to cops.

Democrats this year have wrestled with divisions inside their own party over how much to spend on police. Law enforcement leaders say they’re having a hard time recruiting and retaining officers amid rising violent crime, but new funding for police has become more controversial among some in the party following high-profile officer killings of Black men George Floyd, Daunte Wright and others. So top DFL lawmakers are backing a plan that would spend both on police and other public safety strategies.

“What we’ve learned is that we cannot solve the problems of crime if we only keep doing the same things repeatedly,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat who chairs the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee. “And if we ignore the need to powerfully fund both our community interventions and ways to increase law enforcement’s capacity for fairness, capacity for effectiveness and capacity for efficiency.”

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Meanwhile, Republicans who control the state Senate have their own public safety plans, including $65 million specifically for scholarships and retention bonuses for officers and a host of bills meant to create tougher criminal penalties.

Later in the legislative session, House DFL and Senate GOP leaders will negotiate to see if they can agree on any policy or spending plans to approve and send to Gov. Tim Walz. Lawmakers are working with a projected surplus of $9.25 billion (plus more than a billion in leftover federal COVID-19 relief funds) to write a supplemental budget after the two-year budget was approved in 2021. But for now, the $150 million for public safety is a major plank of how House Democrats hope to address crime. Here are three things we learned from the updated plan.

Democrats increased funding — with only some going to cops 

The original DFL plan included $40 million in the supplemental budget for what they called “innovation in community safety grants.” The money could be spent on eight categories of non-police programs, including juvenile diversion, community violence interruption work by nonprofits, restorative justice efforts, co-responder teams, mental health and social service centers, and services for victims.

Another $44 million would pay to boost police foot patrols and mental health crisis response as well as add to criminal investigation and victim resources.

State Rep. Carlos Mariani: “What we’ve learned is that we cannot solve the problems of crime if we only keep doing the same things repeatedly.”
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Carlos Mariani: “What we’ve learned is that we cannot solve the problems of crime if we only keep doing the same things repeatedly.”
The new bill has $55 million for “local community innovation grants.” This money is barred from going to police and can be spent on 10 different types of initiatives, many of which are similar to the previous “community safety grants” but now include blight elimination and technical assistance for service providers doing work to promote public safety.

The new bill also has $15 million for “emergency” community safety grants to be given out by October, which can be spent on 25 different types of public safety efforts, which include things like re-entry programs, homelessness aid, co-responders, mobile crisis teams and anti-violence nonprofits, but also some police functions like increasing foot patrols, recruiting and retaining officers via advertisements, bonuses and scholarships and adding investigators and detectives. Only half of the money can be spent on programs that involve law enforcement. 

Another $10 million would be spent on mental health workers, mobile crisis teams or violence interruption workers who would respond alongside police, and then $30 million would be spent on two grant programs tied to investigation resources and police aid for things like recruitment and retention of officers, foot patrols, co-responder or crisis teams and police equipment.

Democrats also bumped up a plan to equip police with body cameras from $2.5 million to $15 million and would spend more money on training in use of force and de-escalation tactics.

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About $86 million of the money is specifically earmarked areas hit hardest by crimes.

State Rep. Ryan Winkler
State Rep. Ryan Winkler
In the end, the majority of the money would be spent on non-police efforts. And much of the additional money that is reserved for police is for body cameras and training, though there is new cash available for recruitment and retention. 

Other Democrats have also introduced bills to fund police recruiting and retention. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, introduced a $16 million plan to find and keep officers, for instance.

More money for body cameras

The $15 million for officer-worn body cameras is a major expansion in the bill. It includes a $9 million grant program for departments around the state to buy the technology, and another roughly $6 million to develop a statewide storage program for the data. Ongoing data costs are one huge barrier for law enforcement agencies seeking the technology.

Senate Republicans have proposed $5 million for body cameras, while Gov. Tim Walz had previously called for $9 million. The Department of Public Safety has estimated there are 9,000 officers statewide that don’t have body cameras and the cost to equip each officer is about $1,000 per year.

Even so, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and Minnesota Sheriff’s Association said in a letter Thursday that the money is still not enough.

The politics of public safety remain … complicated

The DFL unveiled the updated plan at a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, attended by a handful of lawmakers on the House’s public safety committee, plus Winkler, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, Mendota Heights police chief and police standards and training board chair Kelly McCarthy and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

Mariani, the public safety committee chair, emphasized the DFL wants to spend on addressing crime in a wide variety of ways that Democrats contend are data-driven and informed by the community. Mariani said there is “incredible common ground here,” and said Democrats “want to support anyone involved in a responsible accountable way of public safety.”

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It’s not clear if the DFL has solved some of its internal divisions over pay for recruiting and retaining police or other law enforcement measures. Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said in a statement that Democrats hadn’t brought public safety bills to the floor yet because of their divisions. But even if so, Senate Republicans and police groups the GOP often backs still oppose many parts of the DFL plan.

The letter from the police chiefs and sheriff’s organizations outlines many objections, which include wanting more data collection and transparency measures for community groups that would receive money; and more money for new officers in future years. The groups also oppose various measures, like a change to how local training reimbursements are funded. “We hope you will find ways to help agencies recruit more officers, retain current officers, and help solve the rampant crime we are seeing across the state,” says the letter. “Unfortunately, in its current form we don’t feel this bill adequately addresses those realities.”