Although this year’s legislative session is not a budget year, lawmakers returned this week with a projected $7.7 billion surplus and no shortage of plans to spend the money.
For example, House DFLers would like to spend $100 million to address a topic of concern for many people right now: the large upswing in violent crime across the state.
To that end, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee on Thursday continued its debate on HF2724, which outlines the bulk of the $100 million DFL public safety proposals.
After hearing testimony from the public, the committee laid the bill over for further consideration on Friday. There is no Senate companion.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) sponsors the bill. He characterizes the proposals as innovative solutions to complicated problems that can only be solved with greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the communities they police.
“We need to evaluate and study policing, so we can discover what we can do better,” he said. “We must be innovative because we know we cannot arrest our way out of an uptick in crime. And we can’t leave the heavy burden of responding to and solving all of our societal ills on our officers.”
The bill would appropriate $22 million in fiscal year 2023 for grants to law enforcement agencies to implement or expand the use of patrols by police officers who are outside a squad car and to expand community partnerships. Another $10 million would be appropriated in fiscal years 2024 and 2026.
Another $22 million in fiscal year 2023 would go for grants administered by the Office of Public Safety Innovation to improve clearance rates for homicides and nonfatal shootings. Again, another $10 million would be appropriated in fiscal years 2024 and 2026.
Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie supports both proposals, but is frustrated the bill specifies no ongoing appropriations beyond 2026.
“We are afraid of one-time money,” he said. “There is a sense that the money comes in, we hire a couple of people, and then the money goes away.”
Leslie also objects to a provision that would allow agencies to hire private investigators to work alongside police detectives to clear cases involving homicides and nonfatal shootings. That concern was also shared by Erik Misselt, executive director of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Private investigators are not sworn officers, he said. And they don’t carry individual liability insurance, only the agencies that employ them do, which he said is very problematic.
He also noted that if a private investigator were negligent on the job or found guilty of misconduct, the POST Board would not have the authority to discipline the private investigator.
Police lobbying groups weighed in on a proposal to appropriate $2.5 million in fiscal year 2023 to purchase body cameras for officers. A 50% match from local police jurisdictions would be required to purchase the cameras.
They praised the plan to purchase the cameras, but issued a statement calling the $2.5 million one-time appropriation “woefully inadequate based on the need across the state.“
The joint statement from the Minnesota Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police associations also objects to several of the policy mandates as a condition of accepting the body camera grants, including requiring police agencies to release camera footage to family members of a person killed by police no later than seven days after the fatal encounter.
That short timeline is unrealistic, they argue because police interviews in these kinds of cases take a minimum of two weeks to complete.
A Friday meeting of the committee will discuss two remaining portions of the bill.
One would establish an alternative licensure task force within the POST Board to develop strategies to increase recruitment of new officers, increase the diversity and professional backgrounds among officers, promote education and training in the community policing model, and maintain high educational standards.
A second provision would permit the creation of civilian oversight councils that would have expanded powers over law enforcement agencies, including the power to discipline officers.