‘We should not politicize public safety’: Rep. Cedrick Frazier on what’s next for police reform at the Minnesota Legislature

22December 2021

Public safety and policing continue to be a top issue in Minnesota, as the Twin Cities and elsewhere grapple with both rising violent crime and efforts to reshape law enforcement practices after the killings of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and others. The topic is certain to play a huge role in next year’s legislative session and the 2022 elections that will determine control of the Minnesota House, Senate and governor’s office.

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a first-term DFLer from New Hope, is a key player at the state Capitol on public safety. The vice-chair of the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, he has helped negotiate recent legislation aimed at police reform.

He also considered running for Hennepin County Attorney to replace the outgoing Mike Freeman. An attorney and former public defender, Frazier ultimately decided against a run and endorsed the county’s former top public defender Mary Moriarty over House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.

MinnPost spoke with Frazier on Monday afternoon about his decision not to run for county attorney, his plans for policing legislation next year, whether he thinks Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson should step down — and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MinnPost: What made you want to commit to staying in the Legislature instead of running for county attorney? 

Cedrick Frazier: I still think there’s a lot of work that I can do as a legislator and that we all can do for those that are in the Legislature right now. We are also accountable to the constituents that we represent. Our bills have a statewide impact. Although the county prosecutors have the discretion that they have and can make a huge impact with that prosecutorial discretion, I still believe in the overall impact that legislators have because we have an impact on the entire state when we pass our bills. I think one of the things that you have to understand, and we talk about this in a legislative session, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention, I think, especially when we’re talking about our public safety: There’s huge intersection on a myriad of things that impact public safety.

When you talk about poverty, when you talk about schooling outcomes, you talk about jobs. Those things impact public safety and legislators, the work that we do, our bills absolutely have an impact on those particular areas. And so for me, I believe as a legislator I still have an impact on those areas, those kind of root-cause issues that lead to some of the crime that we have in our communities, that lead to some of the negative public safety outcomes that we have in the community. So for me thinking about the run for county attorney, one, I’ll tell you, and I’ll be candid is that to me was a big decision to make. I absolutely thought about it. But included in that decision-making process was my family. And we, as a family, decided it wasn’t the time and it wasn’t the role or race that it was meant for me to jump in at this moment. 

MP: Is it difficult at all to endorse Mary Moriarty over your House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler right now? 

CF: I think it’s always difficult making these decisions. I’ve been very clear that I think we have some good candidates in the race. So I think when you have a number of good candidates it’s always difficult to choose between one. But what I can say is that my personal experience with Mary Moriarty goes back over a decade in terms of, I started as a public defender, as everyone knows, that Mary Moriarty was just a few doors down the hall from me, we operated on the same team of public defenders when I was there in Hennepin County. I learned a lot from Mary. We have a really good relationship. We maintained that relationship over the years. 

Mary Moriarty has been doing this work for over 30 years. And I think that there’s not going to be anyone better than her on the policy impact coming from that office. … And I think that was one of the things that made it easier to endorse Mary, because I know that she has seen the policies impact in real time in person, and she’ll be able to go in, and I believe on day one and start to make some policy changes and practice changes that will really have a good and positive impact on public safety.

And she really comes from a holistic perspective in terms of it’s about accountability as a prosecutor, because that’s the job as a prosecutor, you have to prosecute cases. But it’s got to be about more than just the punitive aspect of that. And Mary takes that perspective of looking at some of those root-cause issues and how she can collaborate with other community groups, with police officers, with city managers and local government, mayors, how can you collaborate to have the best policies and the best practices in place so that we can get to a public safety system that’s working for everybody. And I believe Mary’s going to do that.

MP: A lot of legislation supported by House Democrats aimed at reshaping policing has been stalled at the Legislature. The Republican-led Senate over there hasn’t favored a lot of it. But the (Peace Officer Standards and Training) POST Board and the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, especially lately, have been taking a more active role in some of this policymaking. That’s drawn some criticism from Republicans as sort of a workaround. I wanted to ask you, what do you make of some of the changes that they’re making? And do you think those questions are better determined there or by legislators?

CF: At the POST Board in particular, I think I’ve been very clear that I’ve always thought that the POST Board should have the ability to take a look at officers’ activities or behavior, and particularly in any situation that would bring, you know, disrepute on the profession. I mean, that is their role. They are responsible for giving a license to the officer. They should also have the ability to suspend or revoke that license when that individual is acting in a manner that destroys public trust and disrupts that social contract that our officers have in terms of serving and protecting our public. I’ve always thought they should have that ability to do that. Look, every other licensing board in our state has the ability and the authority to look into the behavior of the individuals that they give license to.

And it’s about protecting the integrity of that profession. If anything, if every other licensing board in the state has the ability to do that, I think our officers should be held to an even higher standard because of what we entrust upon them to do for our community. So I absolutely think that they should have that ability. They have the ability to do that through their rule-making process. As legislators, we have already given them the power to do that. Now the fact that they’re actually exercising that power, I don’t think we should now want to interfere with that. We trust these are professionals. The board is consistent, the board is made up of professional law enforcement members: that’s cops, and that’s police chiefs. It’s also made up of community members, so those are the folks that the law enforcement are working with and serving.

We should embrace the ability — that they are looking at what’s happening within this moment. And they’re looking at what’s happening in the profession and looking at what’s happening in Minnesota and around the country. And they’re taking the steps that I believe that they need to figure out how they can make sure to build up the respect that the community and that folks have for the profession. And I think that’s an important thing. That’s hard work for them. 

MP: What’s up next for you in 2022 when it comes to public safety or police accountability legislation. Do you have any top priorities you’re working on?

CF: I will be carrying a bill, it’s got like three pieces to it. One is we’re going to be looking at investing in law enforcement, strategically. Specifically in those things that have been proven to work as we’re looking at data. Those things that have been impactful in bringing down crime in communities. We’re also going to be looking into investing in community crime prevention. I gotta give big props to Gov. Walz because he solved this at the last session. We were pushing for about $20 or $25 million for community crime prevention programs and we wanted to make those programs permanent. 

Because the data has shown us when you invest in those community crime prevention programs — and what that means is these are nonprofits in our communities that are working with youth, these are churches that are working with youth, working with men, women in the community, to put them in positions to be successful in the community. These may have been folks that were incarcerated are now back in the community, or these may be youth that need positive things to be engaged with. Those things bring down the crime rate. Those things bring down gun violence. Those things increase better outcomes in some academic areas. And we know that all of these things create better public safety outcomes. We were looking for funding for that. And our GOP colleagues refused to put anything into that. And the governor said, ‘Look, I’m going to commit $15 million from the [American Rescue Plan] into those types of programming.’

So he had the good foresight to know that these things work. … So we’re going to be coming back as part of the bill that I’ll be carrying next session, we’re going to be asking for more resources for those types of programs. And we’re going to be looking to make sure that these things become permanent, because around the country we’ve seen when these kind of programs are in place, crime rates have gone down, and we need to make sure that we have those. We need to make sure that we’ve invested in programs like that. And then another piece of the bill, we’ll be looking at how do we invest in creating more intelligence for law enforcement.

And the way we’re looking at doing that is how do we create transparency and accountability so that communities will trust law enforcement to share information and share intelligence to help solve crimes. And the reason we want to do that is because we know that even when crimes are happening, we need to be able to solve those crimes. That’s how we get individuals out of the communities and off the streets that are continuing to create or continuing to inflict harm on the community by doing these criminal acts. And what we know is that most of the departments, they have a very low clearance rate in terms of the crimes that are happening. 

So we want to be able to increase that clearance rate because you want to get those criminal actors or bad actors out of the community. Hold them accountable and then find ways to rehabilitate them. 

It seems that we often get put in this position, that — especially when we’re talking about public safety, and we’re talking about police reform — where we have to say, well, ‘We can only talk about police reform, but we can’t talk about the crime that’s happening in the community.’ It’s either one or the other. That is a false choice. We should talk about both. We can talk about the real uptick in crime in the communities. That’s a real thing. People are impacted by that. I understand that, I grew up in a community that had high crime rates. It’s really traumatic and impactful for people. We should talk about that. We should talk about solutions as to how we bring it down. I also grew up in a community where there was police brutality and police violence. We can talk about both of those things because solving both of those issues is going to create a better public safety system for all Minnesotans. 

MP: The first pillar you mentioned was investing in law enforcement and certain things that you believe have the most impact. Can you just expand on that a little bit?

CF: Well there’s some things like community policing with foot patrol. So officers being embedded in the community, getting to know the community. That often comes up a lot around this whole idea that many officers don’t live in their communities. It doesn’t mean that those officers can’t get to know the community. It doesn’t mean those officers can’t build relationships. This may not be a popular thing, but there is some data that shows that when that type of policing is in place, it does deter some crime and it brings down crime rates. So we’ll be looking at things like that. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be more licensed police officers in those communities. You can have community groups doing some of that work, having that presence in the community, which means the community knows these individuals. And when these individuals are there, and we’ve seen this around the country and data tells us this, when those type of community groups working along with law enforcement to help prevent crime, when they’re out in their communities, having those connections, and they’re out patrolling their communities, crime rates go down. It’s a huge deterrent.

MP: Headed into the 2022 session Republicans are not too happy with the sentencing guidelines commission proposal around repeat offenders. House Minority Leader (Kurt) Daudt talked about maybe using some of the surplus money for increases generally for state law enforcement like DPS, State Patrol, BCA, and they were also interested maybe in increased penalties for gun crimes. Do any of those stand out as something that you particularly support or oppose?

CF: I think that devil is in the details. I’d have to see what those things look like. And I’ll just say … the POST Board, again, the sentencing commission, same thing, right, the legislators have already given them the power to do their job. And now, again, we cannot jump in when we believe that they are doing something that we politically may not like. We’ve already given them the ability to do this. We’ve set them up in a way where they can take information and take feedback from the community and they can implement these practices. I believe, again, these are folks, these are volunteers, but these are professionals on these boards that they’re doing it in a way that they think is best for Minnesotans. 

MP: Is there anything at all that you as state legislators and especially on your committee take away from the Minneapolis charter vote to replace the police department?

CF: Well, I live very close to Minneapolis, so obviously I hear a lot about what was happening with the second (charter) amendment. And I recently met with Mayor (Jacob) Frey because I wanted to hear what his vision was. And I shared with him the idea I have with the bill that I’ll be carrying next session, and I wanted to talk about how we can partner. Because what he shared with me was he’s got the new behavioral team, he’s got some co-responder things that he’s working on. He’s got some resources going toward helping folks with drug addiction, so it’s not incarceration but it’s actually treating it like a public health situation, which can have very positive impacts on public safety.

Those are the things that community members want. They want resources that are going to help create a better public safety program for everybody. And I think what happened in Minneapolis was, I think it was just all politics. That was all politics. Again, I will repeat this and I’ll keep repeating this: We should not politicize public safety. It is in the best interest of all Minnesota not to politicize public safety. We should just be doing what we need to do to make sure everyone can feel safe in that community. And that should be from the North Side of Minneapolis all the way up to Brainerd. We have to make sure everyone feels safe in their communities. At this point there are a lot of people in Minneapolis in certain communities that don’t feel safe.

And that’s what we really need to focus on. I know right now we are hearing about some of the suburban mayors are getting together and trying to figure out how they can bring the crime down, but there are people in certain communities that have been dealing with that type of anxiety around not feeling safe in their communities for a very long time. And we need to make sure that we focus on everyone. 

MP: Did you support or oppose the second charter question?

CF: I’ll tell you what I support: What I support is creating a public safety system that is going to be good for everyone so that everyone feels safe in their communities. I didn’t speak a lot about that because I’m not in Minneapolis. What I did was I watched and I listened. I listened to my friends from Minneapolis and I had friends on both sides of this thing. So for me, it was about listening to what each side said and what they were concerned about. And those are the things that I’m going to be taking with me when we’re working on legislation next session for the kind of programming for the community crime prevention pieces. And also for the pieces in terms of the strategic funding of law enforcement, for effective law enforcement that works. 

MP: Sheriff (David) Hutchinson pled guilty to DWI and was in a county vehicle when he crashed. You, as vice-chair of the public safety committee and being in Hennepin County, do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think he should step away or continue in his role?

CF: Well, I will say this: I’m glad that the chief is okay. I don’t know the extent of his injuries or where he is now, but it seems like he’s okay. And I saw the pictures of the vehicle, so I’m glad he is okay. I wish he would have decided to not drive that night so we wouldn’t even be in this situation, but what this highlights is exactly what we talked about and why I attended that POST Board meeting where we talked about having the POST Board they should have their ability and we shouldn’t challenge their ability to look into officers when they do things that they shouldn’t do. I mean, this is a perfect example. I mean, we have law enforcement, their job is to uphold and enforce the law, not to break the law.

And when they do that, it does violate the public trust. It is very hard for the public to trust someone that is upholding the law when they themselves are violating the law. And particularly if there are no consequences. Now, I know he was charged, but we specifically license our law enforcement officers in this state so they can uphold the law. And I do think there should be consequences when you violate that and that those consequences should have an impact on their licensure. I know that he’s up for election soon so he’s going to have to deal with that from voters in terms of the trust that he broke when he decided to drive his vehicle under the influence.

MP: So you’re suggesting that the POST Board should take a look at his licensure?

CF: Here’s where this is important, because right now the POST Board can’t do anything unless he is convicted of those charges. And I am suggesting that, absolutely, yes, this is a situation where it kind of points out the absurdity that the licensing board that gave him the license cannot do anything unless he is prosecuted and convicted of those charges. They should be able to concurrently look into those, look into those situations, because that is absolutely a situation where it does cause some harm to the profession when someone is violating, again, they’re violating that public contract, that social contract. They are there to protect and serve, uphold the law and enforce the law. They shouldn’t be given a pass when they break that law. 

MP: So to be clear you don’t think he should step aside however, that’s not what you’re saying at this point?

CF: I will say this: I have been surprised that there haven’t been calls for that considering the political environment that we’re in.

MP: But you’re not the one who’s going to make that call for now.

CF: I’m not the one who’s going to make that call.

MP: Do you have anything else you would want to add?

CF: I’ll say one more thing about Hutch, just a comparison. You know we recently had a legislator who was in the news and there were very frequent calls for that legislator to step aside. And I think, again, when we’re in these situations where you violate the public trust, I do think there should be some evenness in when folks are deciding to make those calls for elected officials to step aside.

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