HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. — It's been three months since Sheriff Dawanna Witt took office, and with over 23 years of law enforcement experience, Witt is now taking on a new venture.
Joining more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs prosecutors, and survivors of violence as a new member of the "Fight Crime - Invest in Kids" organization.
"It's a national organization, a non-partisan organization," said Sheriff Witt. The whole goal is to find ways to help prevent future juvenile crime."
She says the key focus is on intervention and prevention.
"Juvenile crime is increasingly rising, it's out of control right now," she said. "Unfortunately not all of our kids are in a space where they are ready to receive ways of changing their lives," she said. "Right now, our communities are unstable."
Founded in 1966 - the 'Fight Crime: Invest in Kids' initiative focuses on solutions to curb crime and provide resources to families.
"Whenever there is some kind of program that is going to give Hennepin County the tools to assist in making our juveniles feel safer, feel confident, and hope in their futures, we are all in," she said.
More than 79 law enforcement leaders in Minnesota take part in the program. Sheriff Witt says the goal is to steer kids in the right direction.
"When I talk about juveniles and increasing crimes, we are not talking about only low-level offenders, we're talking about kids driving recklessly, taunting police to lead them on chases," she said. "When we're serious to implement ideas, programs, means being present, and engaging, that means giving resources to help parents with their kids," she said."We had parents from last weekend who said, "We are not coming to get our kids," after being involved in very reckless, and dangerous activities," she said. "We cannot give up on our kids."
While Sheriff Witt emphasizes the need for more accountability.
"We can't be naive to knowing there are some low-level offenders and there are juveniles, that are threatening the safety and security of people's lives, we can't have that either," said Sheriff Witt. "We need to be swift with our actions in law enforcement, as well as the whole criminal justice system as a whole into deterring further behaviors."
She's now working to hire more licensed deputies and staff to continue their work with community partners - helping to build connections and trust within communities.
"Trying to increase the amount of proactive engagements that you have because when we are reactive, people typically don't see us in a positive light, it's a lot of work, and we're doing that with less staff, but it's a necessity," she said.
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