Why I’m running for county attorney

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my 78-year-old mother in Bloomington called and said she was afraid of being carjacked. It’s a call many of us are getting these days. Everyone, whether a senior citizen in the suburbs or a kid on a trampoline in north Minneapolis, deserves to feel — and to be — safe. And that isn’t the case right now.

While we need fresh thinking to find effective solutions, as argued by a recent Star Tribune editorial, we must first agree on the problems. And for that, leaders need to come together for constructive conversations driven by data — and more than crime stats from a moment in time. The absence of comprehensive data designed to measure outcomes makes it all too easy to deflect blame and avoid accountability.

Lately, we’ve seen too many leaders deflecting blame.

As the daily fear of crime that has gripped some neighborhoods for years spills into neighborhoods unaccustomed to violence, people with power are scrambling to blame each other. The public is demanding answers, which makes the media willing to quote whoever will talk. And, for the past few months, it’s been law enforcement doing the talking.

Police have a critical voice in this conversation. But the police talking points that have been the loudest lately are directed at an alleged “revolving door” for those who commit carjackings.

I have asked police chiefs I’ve met with during my campaign for county attorney what the revolving door means. Some have said the county attorney’s bail policy allows people arrested for violent offenses to be released without bail. When I told them the policy only applies to first-time nonviolent property offenses, the response I received — from more than one chief — was, “Well, that’s what I’ve heard.”

We can’t rely on rumors. We can’t pinpoint a bail policy as the problem, while misstating the policy itself. There is a complex labyrinth of issues that lead to violence. It is unhelpful and reductive to claim it can all be solved with one, reactionary solution.

As a candidate for Hennepin County Attorney, I welcome the recent call from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association for more transparency and accountability from prosecutors’ offices. But we need transparency from law enforcement as well.

We’ve been told that police have made arrests in 25% of carjacking cases. We should be looking at the data to see what is happening with that 25%. If they are being released and committing new violent offenses, our approach isn’t working.

But we should also examine why arrests aren’t being made in the other 75% of cases to see how we can improve. We should be analyzing why carjackings have increased exponentially in the past few years. Once we identify the problems, we will be better positioned to implement research-based and effective solutions.

The lived experience of real people in Hennepin County is critical to a common understanding of our problems. We need a true picture of what is happening and to address our problems with a comprehensive approach. And we need to measure our impact.

As county attorney, I will not just issue edicts from my 20th-floor office in the Government Center. I will sit down with law enforcement, elected officials, school officials, victims, the formerly incarcerated, public defenders, the public and all who have a stake in community safety, and hear their voices.

I will prioritize transparency for my office’s policies and decisions. On my first day, I will set in motion a methodical approach to expanding the data we compile and make available to the public. Any official policies we have will be available and easy to find on our website, to squash misunderstandings and rumors.

Transparency is crucial to building — and rebuilding — trust with the community. All criminal justice system stakeholders should welcome it. Decisions that impact people’s safety and liberty should not be shielded from scrutiny.

I’m encouraged by recent meetings of mayors, law enforcement and community partners that could lead to changes that make our communities safer. These conversations need to be driven by data and a shared commitment to transparency, however, in order to accurately identify the problems we face and solutions that will work. The public expects no less.

Mary Moriarty, of Minneapolis, is a former chief Hennepin County public defender. She is a candidate for Hennepin County Attorney.