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House panel hears similarities, challenges of policing in Greater Minnesota

Violent crime, drug addiction, human sex trafficking, domestic abuse, and other public safety challenges are statewide problems and are not just law enforcement issues for the metropolitan area.

That was the message delivered to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.

Several testifiers spoke on the challenges of providing effective public safety services in Greater Minnesota, beginning with Drew Evans, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who addressed sex trafficking.

House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee 01/28/21

“There is no particular jurisdiction or region in the state that does not have human trafficking occurring in it,” Evans said. “It occurs all over the state of Minnesota.”

In his presentation, Evans said the BCA coordinates sex trafficking task forces throughout the state “to provide coordinated and collaborative statewide assistance with human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, victim recoveries and trainings through a victim-centered approach.”

Between 2018 and 2020, he said state task forces received 1,260 sex trafficking reports, and investigated 1,113 of them. He said 323 of the reports involved a juvenile, and 354 of the investigations resulted in prosecutable cases.

Drug addiction and the criminal activity associated with it remain the No. 1 problem in rural areas, said Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable.

He said that increasingly, encounters his officers have with people who have mental health issues are a huge drag on his agency’s resources.

The ability of rural law enforcement agencies to effectively respond to mentally ill people is “badly, badly broken,” Hable said, adding this failure is not unique to his county.

When his small staff of 3-4 officers on duty in a single shift become overwhelmed, he said, a mentally ill person unfortunately ends up in the county jail, which is the worst possible place for them.

Other problems his agency faces include:

  • wage disparities – his county can’t hire and keep good officers due to low pay;
  • overwork and burnout – about 50% of his staff also volunteer for other emergency services such as firefighting and EMT duties; and
  • logistical difficulty in meeting extensive training requirements from the POST Board.

Not all policing trends in Greater Minnesota are negative.

The 2010 Minnesota Legislature established and funded Violent Crime Enforcement Teams located throughout the state.

Kate Weeks, executive director of the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Public Safety, highlighted some positive effects of those teams.

“Meth labs are down from 410 in 2003 to fewer than 20 in the last several years,” she said.

The committee plans to continue hearing presentations on Greater Minnesota policing issues Friday.

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