There were tense scenes at the Minnesota capitol on Monday after a clash between GOP lawmakers and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
The cause of the confrontation was a series of bills rolled out by House Republicans on Monday morning, which is aimed at addressing "a rise in violent crime in parts of the Twin Cities."
Mayor Frey was among those observing the press conference, and later took to the podium himself to offer his own rebuttal to the proposals, claiming they are dealing in misinformation about crime and policing stats in order to make a political point.
He took exception for example to a claim by Rep. Kurt Daudt that Minneapolis has not added police officers in the latest budget cycle, noting that the Mayor's Office and the city council came to an agreement to add an extra recruiting class for the coming year.
"That is misinformation and people of Minnesota deserve to hear the truth," said Frey. "We spent $2.7 million on a whole new recruiting class, we used to have two recruiting classes annually, now it's three, what he said was false and it was geared towards dissuading voters."
He also criticized the House GOP for not reaching out to the League of Minnesota Cities regarding the bills they proposed, which have implications for policing and administration at the municipal level.
"Republicans have always said that big government is not the way to run, yet when it comes to local municipalities, when it comes to people most connected to the lives of everyday residents, they want to reach down and do absolutely as much as they can in areas where they do not know what they're talking about," he added.
"This is an issue. This speaks to a lack of collaboration in government, this speaks to a lack of transparency in the facts, and this peaks to an attempt to divide rural and urban areas against each other."
When asked whether that means he doesn't think crime is an issue in Minneapolis, Frey answered: "No, not at all, public safety needs to be a top priority," before noting how he has campaigned to increase police officer numbers in the city.
What followed the press was this exchange captured by KSTP's John Croman, showing Frey and Rep. Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook) arguing in the capitol hallways.
GOP seeks to address violent metro crime
The same article found that much of the reduction in crime is coming from North Minneapolis, with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo that there have been fewer shootings tied to gang activity than there has been in the past, while most of the increase in serious crime is happening downtown or just south of it.
While the Twin Cities remains a DFL stronghold, the Minnesota GOP is making violent crime in the Twin Cities a key part of its messaging ahead of the 2020 elections, as it seeks to retake the House and hold onto the Senate.
With the exception of Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville), the bills announced on Monday have all been proposed by lawmakers based outside of the Twin Cities metro.
The GOP lawmakers were joined at the podium by Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Bob Kroll, who has joined the calls for more officers in Minneapolis.
Here's a look at the bills proposed by Minnesota House Republicans:
- From Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Buffalo: Boosting penalties for gang members who use firearms in commission of a crime.
- From Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River: Increase funding for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for gang and drug trafficking efforts.
- From Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring: Requiring cities with regional or statewide sports and entertainment facilities to have adequate law enforcement near those venues, or risk losing Local Government Aid (LGA) from the state.
- From Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville: Increase enforcement of fare evasion, increase sworn officers for Metro Transit police, and install interactive cameras on light rail platforms.
- From Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook: Prohibiting cities from disarming officers in good standing.
Regarding the fare evasion enforcement, this comes after the Metro Council and House DFLers proposed bills to decriminalize fare evasion so that it's treated at the same level as a parking ticket or using an MNPass lane without authorization.
Metro Transit meanwhile revealed its own proposals to tackle crime on transit services, including adding 20,000 extra hours for Metro Transit police officers to take, as well as raising the possibility of loaning police from other cities.
In a statement Monday, House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt said: "There’s been an alarming increase in violent crime on the light rail and in parts of the Twin Cities that is causing concern for residents, workers who commute there each day, and Minnesotans who travel to the cities for sporting events and concerts.
"Minnesotans deserve to feel safe in their communities no matter where they are—that’s why our caucus is bringing forward bills to help law enforcement combat gang violence, drug trafficking, and violent crime."
Crime in the Twin Cities
Despite there being a spike in homicides in 2019, notably in St. Paul, police figures show there was a decrease in overall violent crime in St. Paul last year. The most recent figures for Minneapolis have not been released, but there was a 26 percent drop in the city in 2018.
But there has been a record number of violent incidents on Twin Cities transit, notably the light rail, which is prompting action from the Metropolitan Council after a few high-profile cases that include a fatal stabbing on the Blue Line, and a fatal shooting on a bus in downtown Minneapolis.
Cited in the Republicans' launch of their "Safety in our Cities" legislation was this article by the Star Tribune which showed that "serious crimes" have risen in 2/3rds of Minneapolis neighborhood, based on analysis of available police data in 2019.
Serious crimes also include property crimes like burglary, not just violent crime. The Star Tribune noted that the biggest uptick in serious crime happened in the Downtown East area, near U.S. Bank Stadium, which has seen a rise in population in recent years, and which recorded 304 "serious or violent crimes" in 2019, up about 70 percent from the 179 it averaged in 2015-18.
But this framing sparked some criticism on social media, when further investigation of the figures showing that just 23 of those incidents were "violent crimes," albeit that was more than has been reported in the prior four years.