Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, no stranger to controversy, sparked another with a proposal for his department to coordinate a metropolitan effort to tackle violent crime – with a focus on diversion car – which would be funded with $3 million in state money.
Under the plan, Fletcher would disperse state funds to pay officers from other agencies. The bill is included in the Senate’s extensive public safety agenda, although it did not have a House hearing and would likely be debated in a conference committee.
The measure says the state commissioner of public safety would report to the Legislature on how the money is spent. It was news to commissioner John Harrington, who said he was unaware of Fletcher’s proposal until he was contacted by the Star Tribune and his department objected.
“There are a lot of different parts of it that don’t make a whole lot of sense,” Harrington said. “Why is the money going to one of the seven counties? Why wouldn’t you give the money [directly] to the seven counties. What is the application process? Who determines who gets it?
He added that the state already funds violent crime squads.
“There is a device that already exists,” he said.
In an interview, Fletcher was unmoved by Harrington’s opposition.
“It may be that the Minnesota Senate has more faith in the Ramsey Sheriff’s Office than in the Department of Public Safety when it comes to dealing with carjackings,” Fletcher said. “And that’s because our department has gotten really good at catching carjackers.”
Fletcher created a three-person unit last fall to focus on stopping auto thefts and carjackings. He said the unit had made 48 arrests in the first three months of 2022, including nine for carjacking. In the previous quarter, he made 30 arrests, including six for carjacking. Carjacking arrests before the new unit were rare, he said, “because we didn’t have the resources.”
Minneapolis averaged about 20 carjacking arrests every three months in 2021, a year in which it recorded about 600 total carjackings.
Fletcher said $2.4 million in state money would pay overtime for about 15 officers from different departments and five analysts to deal with carjackings, assaults, robberies and gun violence. The unit commander would recommend which officers should get funding, leaving the decision to Fletcher and his administrative staff. Ramsey County would receive “less than 20%” of the funds, he said.
Fletcher’s proposal also requests $600,000 for a state patrol helicopter to track carjackings. If any law enforcement agency in the metro area needed a helicopter to hunt a carjacker, they would ask the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.
Harrington said law enforcement now simply contacts the State Patrol when they need air support. If an agency outside of Ramsey County needed a patrol helicopter, he asked, why should they get permission from the Ramsey County Sheriff?
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who presented Fletcher’s proposal last month before a Senate committee, said he was swayed by watching “endless news” on television about crime from the Twin Cities.
“It got crazy,” he said. “My constituents say, ‘I’m not going to send my kids to college or go to a Twins game because it’s dangerous. “
Ingebrigtsen, a former Douglas County sheriff, said he doesn’t think the money should go directly to Minneapolis, though he acknowledged most of the recent crimes have occurred in Hennepin County.
“With the city council talking about defunding the police, that’s where it all started,” he said. “It made a total mockery of public safety. … They don’t seem to care in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. They didn’t come asking for money. Ramsey County did. “
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office officials were ‘open to partnering with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office in joint crime-fighting efforts’ but had not been contacted about it or given any information. on the bill, according to spokesman Jeremy Zoss.
Minneapolis police spokesman Howie Padilla said the department had no position on Fletcher’s proposal. “If this bill comes to fruition, we will be looking at the best ways the Minneapolis Police Department can help,” he said.
Rich Neumeister, a longtime open government and privacy advocate, last month reminded a Senate committee of the existence of the Metro Gang Strike Force, a metropolitan crime-fighting unit that closed in 2009 after a series of scandals that included the mistreatment of individuals and the seizure of property for personal use by Strike Force members.
The Gang Strike Force lacked accountability, Neumeister said.
“How are we going to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” he said in an interview.
Ramsey County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo expressed the same concern.
“It looks like the Gang Strike task force, and we all know how it went,” she said, adding that Fletcher should focus on Ramsey County. “We don’t have the sheriff of the world,” she said.
Fletcher argues that jurisdictions need to collaborate, given that criminals work across city borders. Harrington says the collaboration is already happening, with additional resources available through the State Patrol and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Fletcher said his proposal “is a completely different concept” from the Gang Strike Force and that his finances would be overseen by his own director of planning and policy.
“Officers would remain overseen by their own jurisdiction and would simply coordinate and cooperate on a regular basis,” he said.
Fletcher’s request for crime-fighting funds comes after three years of budget battles in Ramsey County, where he and county commissioners have repeatedly argued over spending and priorities.
Shortly after Fletcher took office in 2019, payroll charges threatened to torpedo his first budget. In early 2020, the county used $950,000 from its general provident account to cover losses, warning Fletcher that the sheriff’s office needed to be careful with its books.
In 2020, Ramsey County Council reimbursed Fletcher for nearly $500,000 in civil unrest emergency costs. Last year, the sheriff asked for more money for what he said were additional costs related to the January 6 uprising in Washington, the trial of Derek Chauvin and the protests after the shooting of Daunte Wright by the police, as well as various threats against local officials and businesses. Council voted 4 to 3 to grant the requested $868,530.
When Ramsey County made cuts across the board in 2020 to limit taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fletcher sued the board. He said he needed not only the $1.175 million the board had cut from its nearly $63 million budget, but also an additional $2.54 million to manage pension contributions, variances pay, bonuses and civil unrest. He ultimately lost the case when the district court judge did not accept his arguments.
Fletcher also drew complaints from county commissioners for pursuing things beyond the scope of his office, such as funding a charter school proposal and negotiating to take over State Fair’s security without let them know beforehand. The sheriff’s office coordinated fair security last year, but the fair has since reinstated its own police department.