As they have been in recent years for many residents of Hennepin County, crime and policing were at the forefront at a forum between Hennepin County attorney candidates Mary Moriarty and Martha Holton Dimick Thursday night.
The two responded to submitted questions on a variety of topics mostly related to criminal justice in the hourlong forum, held at Sojourner Truth Academy in north Minneapolis with University of Minnesota Professor Linda McLoon as moderator.
In her opening statement, Moriarty said that gun violence is a bothersome topic, and not just in Minneapolis.
“We can’t forget places like Richfield,” she said, referring to a shooting that took place at a high school football game there in September. “We have to work with police leadership, and the only way I can do that is if the police do good police work.”
She also advocated for data-based approaches to solving and curtailing crime. “The Minneapolis police department is catching 10 percent of (suspects) in carjacking cases,” she said. “Are those people being held or released? We need to use data we have on those 10 percent.”
Dimick said her focus would be to “restore the effectiveness and trust of the office” of county attorney. A 20-year resident of north Minneapolis, Dimick said the disproportionate crime there is particularly harmful.
“When it comes to violent crimes, communities of color feel the hardest crunch,” she said. “We need to aggressively prosecute violent criminals and compassionately deal with low-level criminals.”
She said she wants to support the county’s adult and juvenile diversion programs that trade jail time for efforts toward education, restitution and measures aimed at reducing recidivism.
“People in jail belong in jail,” she said. “But for low-level offenders, we do have diversion. It’s a very positive alternative to incarceration for low-level offenders. I’d like to see that expanded.”
DFL-endorsed Moriarty’s platform has centered her campaign on bail reform, restorative justice, police accountability, and addressing racial disparities. She’s pushing for community-based alternatives to incarceration in some cases, including supporting such alternatives at the Legislature. She also wants to work with schools and families to make sure juveniles who commit crimes have options that include structure and support.
Dimick places a greater emphasis on public safety, including promising to swiftly prosecute gun crimes and work with law enforcement and community leaders to fight violent crime via grant-funded programs and collaboration with local governments, religious groups and community organizations. She also supports a productive relationship between the county attorney’s office and the police, but says she will hold criminal police accountable.
During the forum, Moriarty recommended a more arm’s-length relationship between the county attorney’s office and police departments, suggesting that seeing the two as partners can be dangerous.
“The county attorney has never been an active participant in holding the MPD accountable,” she said. “MPD leadership never hears about some of the [bad encounters] their officers have.
“We need to regain the public’s trust,” she added. “Prosecutors are not taking responsibility for incidents of race-based police misconduct. When it comes to community trust, there’s very little for good reason. The system has done terrible things to people.”
A former Minneapolis deputy city attorney, Dimick maintained that the county has to build and maintain trust with the police.
“The history has been very poor in north Minneapolis, but I would say no to defunding,” she said. “You can’t reform a police department that doesn’t exist.”
She said she also wants Hennepin County to lobby the legislature for stricter gun laws.
Both candidates also addressed juvenile crime during the forum. Moriarty, previously Hennepin County’s chief public defender, said she wants to speed up processing of youth-related crimes, and Dimick pushed for a “custodial environment” to help keep kids out of trouble.
“We need to have these children back in their communities with parents and social workers,” Dimick said. “We will work on a metro level to create a way to re-enter them in their communities.”
Another focus for Moriarty is the abolition of cash bail. “It is a constitutional right to have bail,” she said. “You’re 25 percent more likely to plead guilty if you have to post bail. The county attorney decides whether to ask for bail. We need to look at the ability to pay so that the ability to get out of jail isn’t based on wealth.”