What’s behind outstate Republicans’ new concern for big-city safety?

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The tug of war between Twin Cities legislators and their outstate colleagues is older than the state itself.

St. Peter fought to move the territorial capital from St. Paul in 1851, seven years before statehood. St. Paul remained the capital city thanks to a trick that Roger Stone would be proud of. A bill making St. Peter the capital was about to be enacted when Joe Rolette took physical possession of the document and disappeared for the rest of the session, not returning until it was too late to pass any more bills. According to the story, he spent the week away from the Legislature drinking and playing poker in a hotel room with some friends. According to other versions of the story, the “hotel room” was actually a brothel.

In the 170 years since, metro and outstate – now called Greater Minnesota – legislators frequently tangled over funding, public projects and political power.

Until this year. Now outstate Republican legislators have introduced a package of laws, called “Safety in Our Cities,” and want to spend money on metro pubic safety.

The bills target gang activity, drug trafficking, transit safety and law enforcement at major sports and entertainment facilities.

City officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul have debated hiring more cops and how to pay for them so state help would be welcomed.

Data shows St. Paul’s overall violent crime rates are at a 25-year low, but a series of gun-related homicides last fall have people worried. In Minneapolis, violent crime was up 12 percent and property crime rose nearly 16 percent last year vs. 2018.

The Republicans’ current concern for public safety appears to actually be an attempt to scare suburban voters about safety in the core cities. Republicans lost control of the state House, thanks in large part to suburban districts electing Democrats in 2018. Now they want to retake the suburbs by showing fearful voters they are tough on crime.

The package’s centerpiece bill would eliminate state aid payments if a city did not comply with the provisions to deploy enough cops to “account for the safety of visitors while parking, dining and traveling within the city in conjunction with their visit to a facility.” The commissioner of Public Safety must set officer “staffing standards for the protection of visitors to the designated facilities, including while visitors are parking, dining and traveling within the city in conjunction with their visit.”

That’s a pretty vague mission and who would know better how many cops are needed and where to station them? The Public Safety commissioner or local police chiefs and commanders?

There are certainly public safety issues that need additional funding. But the Greater Minnesota Republicans should leave the details to local officials.

I attend dozens of sports and entertainment events in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul each year. The only “assault” I’m worried about is the assault on my ears by the drummers banging on plastic buckets who gather around Target Field after Twins games.

I might be more worried if I was looking to buy drugs in a Warehouse District alley at 2 a.m.

One of the big supporters of the Safety in Our Cities package is Rep. Matt Grossell who represents House District 2A, a district that borders Canada. He lives twice as far from St. Paul as from Winnipeg. After a press conference, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Grossell engaged in a walking debate over a related crime bill.

The support of Grossell and other Greater Minnesota Republicans to increase public safety is welcome, but they should collaborate with Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors and police chiefs to spend the money wisely.

Author: Mike Knaak

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