Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Nov. 22

St. Paul's new commission can make a difference

In the ongoing debate about law enforcement reform and police funding, it makes sense to step back and answer this basic question: Exactly what do citizens need and want sworn police officers to do?

That’s the smart strategic mission of St. Paul’s recently announced Community-First Public Safety Commission. Earlier this month, Mayor Melvin Carter launched the 40-person commission, which will be co-chaired by Acooa Ellis of Greater Twin Cities United Way and John Marshall of Xcel Energy. The group will meet during the next five months in a process led by the Citizens League and will provide recommendations to Carter and the City Council in May 2021.

The advisory group isn’t expected to make recommendations regarding violent crime. Rather, it will concentrate on alternative first-response options to nonemergency matters known as Priority 4 and 5 calls. Those include incidents such as noise issues, barking dogs, shoplifting and parking complaints.

A St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) spokesman told an editorial writer that Police Chief Todd Axtell supports the work of the commission, which will include representatives from law enforcement as well as a diverse cross section of others from the community.

The spokesman described the effort as building upon work already underway in the department, such as receiving more nonemergency complaints online instead of deploying officers.

In a news release, Axtell said one of the department’s greatest challenges is the “steady increase in calls for service” and making sure that officers can respond when citizens need them most.

Carter told an editorial writer that there are situations in which there is “absolutely no substitute” for having sworn officers at the scene.

“But two-thirds of our calls could possibly be handled by someone else — a person sleeping on a park bench might need an emergency housing person; someone threatening suicide could benefit from a crisis counselor; a barking dog could be handled by animal control,” he said. “Offloading those types of calls could help officers respond more quickly and investigate the crimes where they’re really needed.”

A summer commentary in the Atlantic magazine supports the notion of “unbundling” the services that cops provide. It argues that modern police work has become bloated and includes a lot of services that have little to do with violent crime.

Meanwhile, as that longer-term work is underway, St. Paul (like Minneapolis and other cities) is experiencing an increase in violent, gun-related crimes.

Once the lower-priority crimes can be handled in other ways, more of the city’s sworn officers can be available on the street to address and hopefully prevent higher-priority crimes.

SPPD has about 800 employees, including 620 sworn officers who respond to nearly 300,000 calls for service and investigate about 13,000 Part 1 priority crimes each year. It’s critical for those resources to be used as efficiently as possible. And that’s where the work of the city’s new commission can make a difference.

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Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Nov. 22

State should provide relief to businesses

As Main Street bars, restaurants and gyms must shut down once again due to the spread of COVID-19, it is urgent that Minnesota enhance its business assistance program.

Gov. Tim Walz, in his address on Nov. 19, agreed businesses need help but deferred to the federal government. He penned a letter to congressional leaders urging a new stimulus plan as soon as possible. Yes, Congress should approve another stimulus package, but we cannot be confident this Congress, or the next, will get anything done. Washington has become quite dysfunctional in this time of crisis.

The state of Minnesota must step in and step up.

While the state is facing a fiscal year end deficit of $2.4 billion, it also has a rainy day reserve fund of $2.5 billion. We should find creative ways to use that money for a Main Street business assistance program. We should provide the assistance now so as to sustain businesses through the end of the year when a vaccine rollout will be near.

If bars and restaurants continue to go out of business, the state will lose tax revenue permanently, so it makes sense to provide these kind of grants.

While it seems the Minnesota Democratic-controlled House and Republican Senate could agree on a state aid package, Walz should also consider all available options through executive order. The state should consider ideas such as deferring collection of sales and liquor taxes from businesses.

The state also could approve funding and plan on reimbursement with federal CARE funds. Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, has suggested using $22 million in currently available federal funds for business relief.

Walz has reopened eligibility for $10,000 loans from $10 million available through the Small Business Relief Grant, but that is only open to those who applied for it the first time. Others who tried to go it alone now are penalized by that rule.

There may be some other funds to help balance the deficit that could be tapped to fill a deficit hole such as the health care access fund or various DEED loan funds. At one point a few years ago, the state deferred school funding. In this case, it would only be for a few months, not years. So that’s a more palatable idea.

We believe the state needs to take action urgently before more businesses close and the state loses tax revenue permanently. These small businesses have done what they’ve been asked to do and had to shutter their doors through no fault of their own.

They deserve some immediate state relief.

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St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Nov. 22

‘Shop local’ means more now than ever

“Shop local.”

Yea, we know. You read that every year about this time.

This year, though, “shop local” is more than a holiday slogan. It’s an urgent plea. More than a few local businesses face dire circumstances as this COVID-19 pandemic rages.

Central Minnesotans must do all they can to help these locally owned and operated entities make it through this year.

As everyone knows by now, for the second time in less than nine months, COVID-19 has forced at least a month long closure of bars, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues and more.

Necessary restrictions on events and gatherings mean there will likely be no company parties or even “let’s just stop for one after work.” Honestly, even the seasonal battle cry of “let’s go shopping” could be muted in the face of this deadly spike of COVID-19.

Amid all that, though, most of us are probably still planning on shopping for holiday gifts. And we certainly still need to purchase daily necessities.

When you make those purchases, please make them with locally owned and operated businesses. Especially this year.

Sure, you can still do that via the internet. Just make sure you search specifically for local businesses. And then click and spend through them.

Can’t find their websites? Dig a little harder and find their phone numbers. Call and ask what are their options for helping you find and buy what you need, whether it’s ONE PACKAGE of toilet paper or gifts for family members.

Similarly, if you lead a business or organization that normally would hold a holiday or year-end celebration, don’t just put those plans — and money — on hold. Work with your host to shift that event a few months or more into 2021. Still, though, pay for it now if that’s at all possible!

Your stories live here.

Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.

And most certainly, reach out to your favorite local restaurant or bar and give them your support. Purchase gift cards or other merchandise they sell.

Of all the industries tested by this pandemic, the hospitality industry stands out as the most challenged. Help them make it through this so they can welcome you back, hopefully to ring in the New Year.

“Shop local” like your neighbor’s livelihood depends on it. Because this year it really does.