Also Left Unfinished at the State Capitol: Public Safety

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The safety of our communities cannot be collateral damage to political maneuvering. With violent crime on the rise, we cannot disappoint Minnesotans on one of today’s most pressing issues without calling for action that was meant to begin months ago.

Last month, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned without taking meaningful action to address violent crime. Last week, negotiations for a special session appeared to have reached an impasse. Time is running out and every day we see another report of senseless violence that adds to the fear our communities feel.

There is still time to make critical investments in policing, courts, victim assistance, and data-driven investments in corrections. The Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House have proposed a series of proposals that could reduce violent crime. Governor Tim Walz and the House are ready to strike bipartisan agreements focused on reducing crime and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system.

We need to put Minnesota’s historic surplus to work for public safety now. We have the opportunity to invest in proven strategies to advance community safety. Providing new funding for crime prevention efforts, strengthening criminal investigations and policing, improving intervention strategies that reduce recidivism, and focusing on effective responses to juvenile delinquency will pay dividends to public safety in the short and long term.

We also face a short-term federal funding shortfall that will reduce funding for programs that support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as general services for victims of crime. A reduction in this funding would have devastating effects, especially at a time when we have seen domestic violence on the rise.

Law enforcement partners in our communities also need support. To improve public safety in every Minnesota community, we must attract and retain well-qualified, well-trained, and healthy police officers who are committed to serving their communities. We must act now to provide essential resources to local agencies large and small, with investments in training, officer welfare, and recruitment and retention supports to ensure our law enforcement agencies are fully staffed.

With additional investments, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension can more vigorously support local crime-solving efforts. We must act to increase our DNA and firearms testing capacity at the statewide lab to improve prosecution efficiency and outcomes. Decades of research have shown that the best deterrent to crime is fear of being arrested and charged – and these investments will help police solve crimes and hold those who commit them accountable.

Finally, what we do with individuals when they enter the criminal justice system is important. We need to invest in correctional supervision with an emphasis on evidence-based practices in our correctional systems to reduce the risk of recidivism. Given that 95% of those incarcerated in Minnesota prisons will return to our state’s quarters, ensuring their success comes close to the vision of having no more victims.

As former police officers and commissioners of Minnesota’s top public safety agencies, we urge state Senate leaders to respond to Governor Walz and the State House’s offer to come together to forge an agreement on a set of public safety measures. The safety of Minnesotans depends on it.

John Harington is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Paul Schnell is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.