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Walz public safety plan takes broad approach

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz pitched a wholistic blueprint for supporting police, building community trust and curbing violence over the long term.

BURNSVILLE, Minn. — When it comes to public safety, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz doesn't see it as a choice between supporting law enforcement and trying comprehensive, community-based approaches to crime prevention. He asserts the state can and should do both at the same time.

Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan touted their public safety plan Wednesday in Burnsville, where they hosted a roundtable with area lawmakers and others.

"We have to be very clear that all of society’s shortcomings or ills can’t be expected to be solved by law enforcement at a time of crisis," Walz remarked.

"Minnesotans are looking for solutions, and I think the good news is with the state’s budget situation and a desire to tackle this in a comprehensive manner I'm hopeful we can get these things done."

The plan includes $300 million in direct aid to cities and counties across the next three years, plus help with officer recruitment, criminal investigation capacity, grants to community intervention groups, funding for more body-worn cameras, better PTSD and cancer benefits for officers and their survivors, crime prevention grants and investments in youth employment and after school programs.

Dakota County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Joe Leko told the group law enforcement welcomes outside help solving issues and connecting repeat mental health crisis callers to services and resources they need. That county has had good experience so far using social workers as co-responders.

Leko said recruitment incentives such as bonuses and tuition aid would be very helpful at a time the pool of aspiring officers has dwindled.

"Back in the day we used to have 200 applying for two positions. Now we have 18 applying for three openings," Leko explained.

"Pay is part of it as well. When you’re starting to look at the dangers that come with the job and what you’re asked to do, they weigh that as part of the decision point."

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Three Burnsville area lawmakers -- Sen. Lindsey Port, Rep. Jessica Hanson, and Rep. Kaela Berg -- also spoke in support of a broad approach to crime prevention and rebuilding community trust and support for police.

Megan Walsh, a volunteer for the Minnesota Chapter of Moms Demand Action, cited the recent lockdown at Burnsville High School as an example of the threats posed by illegal firearms.

"I saw a text exchange between a mother and her daughter, who was in a barricaded room and didn’t know what was happening. The mother was frantically searching on the internet, trying to get her daughter information on the scene," Walsh recalled.

"Thank goodness no shots were fired that day on that campus, but that trauma will remain with those families."

Walz and Flanagan have conducted similar public safety meetings in Moorhead, New Ulm, St. Cloud, Stillwater, St. Louis Park, Duluth, Brooklyn Park, Eagan, and North Minneapolis.

Flanagan said she's heard many innovated ideas from law enforcement and community leaders across the state.

"In New Ulm they’d like to use money to have an unmarked vehicle where survivors fleeing domestic violence would be able to be driven in these vehicles instead of in a squad car or something else," Flanagan said.

"They’ve done nothing wrong. They want to them to feel safe and supported. They'd also like a room for children and families who’ve experienced some kind of trauma that is cozy and supportive as they go through this."

House Democrats include grants for community intervention groups in their public safety plan, but the Senate excluded funding for those organizations. Senate Public Safety Chair Warren Limmer of Maple Grove told reporters violence interrupter organizations shouldn't receive taxpayer dollars because they're untested and unaccountable. 

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