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Minnesota Opinion: US attorney available to help deter violent crime in Minnesota

From the editorial: "His messages are unwavering both to criminals, that consequences will be severe, and to local authorities, that the U.S. attorney’s office is there to help."

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Look no further than Duluth to see that violent crime, especially in our larger cities, is “at record pace,” as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Andrew Luger, stated. He not only didn’t look past Duluth; on Thursday, Luger visited Duluth, where shootings this year are on pace with the record number set in 2020.

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“It’s not just the numbers, it’s the intensity of the violence and the type of violence we’re seeing,” he said in a meeting with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board that preceded face-to-face sit-downs about the crime crisis with the St. Louis County attorney and with police chiefs, deputy chiefs, and other Northland law-enforcement leaders. “It’s more dangerous and requires more focus.”

Also required may be the threat of federal prosecution, which can include 30-year mandatory minimum sentences, Luger said, pointing out that, “That certainty of accountability” — when carried out “consistently, swiftly, and publicly — can have a deterrent effect.”

So, in Duluth first and then elsewhere around the state, Luger is offering his office’s prosecutorial assistance with the most violent of violent incidents. Are there cases local authorities would like him to take, where the threat of a lengthy federal sentence can be effective and useful? “We will never turn away a case because we’re too busy,” he vowed.

The types of cases he’s talking about include carjackings; fentanyl sales, an illegal trade known for its bloody and ruthless turf wars; and shootings with machine guns.

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Yes, machine guns, with the advent of a device, or a switch, that can convert a handgun into an automatic weapon, essentially making it a mini machine gun.

“What I’m hearing from law enforcement around the state is they need us to play an increased role with the worst offenders, the ones who have the longest violent histories, the ones who are carrying the switches,” Luger said. “People want us to take those cases.”

Luger’s offer is part of a new federal strategy in Minnesota that he announced in May and that began with addressing violent crime in the Twin Cities, which “is at an all-time high,” he said. “This new strategy is … designed as a signal to violent offenders to stop. This violence cannot continue. It is causing far too much fear, too much pain, and too much heartbreak for families and our (communities).”

In addition to expanding the capacity of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute more cases statewide, Luger’s strategy has every prosecutor in his office now taking violent-crime cases. Additional prosecutors are also being hired. And a new gang-prosecution team has been created.

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Though not part of the initiative, Luger agreed that Minnesota courts need more personnel and resources, too, including public defenders, so consistent sentencing can help prevent recidivism. Most criminals don’t start out violent. Justice early can discourage the escalation of criminal activity.

Important to point out, of course, is that, as important as it is to curb violent crime and to punish wrongdoing, any zeal for justice cannot be allowed to include heavy-handed policing, especially with communities too often falsely accused. Minnesotans know as well as anyone that an officer can go too far. Luger and others in criminal justice can commit to working with civil-rights groups and community members to ensure that justice in Minnesota is not only swift and an effective deterrent but is also always fair, unbiased, and respectful.

Our U.S. attorney isn’t the only one in Minnesota focusing on violent crime this summer. The State Patrol has stepped up its presence in the Twin Cities, including traffic stops that are helping to end illegal street racing, dangerous driving, and other criminal activity. Those stops have led to dozens of DWI arrests and more than 100 citations for driving without a valid license, as the governor’s office reported last week.

In addition, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and State Patrol are working well together on crimes involving guns, carjackings, street racing, and violence. Since spring, Gov. Tim Walz has allocated nearly $7 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds toward public safety, he said, including supporting crime victims.

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Blame the increase in — and increased severity of — criminal activity on the loss of respect in our nation for authority, for law enforcement, and for our very institutions. Incivility in politics has set a very bad example. Fewer law-enforcement officers on our streets and the lack of prosecution and justice during the pandemic’s early days of shutdowns also clearly contributed.

The assistance being offered now by Luger can be embraced. The timing is right. The need is clear. And his messages are unwavering both to criminals, that consequences will be severe, and to local authorities, that the U.S. attorney’s office is there to help.

“What we’re doing is trying to bring back the urgency and the immediacy of consequences and accountability,” Luger told the News Tribune. “We’ve got a lot of laws. We just have to go out and enforce them.”

That happens with the most promise of success and peace when communities and local, state, and federal authorities all work together.

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the view of the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board.

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