Candidates for the Dakota County Attorney primary in 2022

2022 Dakota County Attorney Primary Election: Public Safety

Thanks to Cardinal Corner and Jameson’s Irish Bar for their support.

The county attorney is on the ballot this year in Dakota County. Four candidates are running for Dakota County attorney, the first time the race has been contested since 1994. The top two in the primary will advance to the general election in November. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the primary election on August 9. See our 2022 primary voter’s guide for more.

Previously we asked about the role of county attorney, the candidates’ top priorities, and criminal justice reform. This time around we asked about public safety. There’s also a series of yes/no questions about basic political positions in our printable voter’s guide.

While crime is not drastically rising in Dakota County, public safety is always a concern. What are your top public safety concerns and how would you address them?

We posed this question to all candidates. Here are their responses:

Kathy Keena

(campaign site)

Public safety is on the top of everyone’s mind. Fortunately, Dakota County has not experienced
the same level of increase in violent crime as some of our neighboring counties. The number of
adult felony cases we prosecuted decreased in 2021 as compared to 2020; and unlike other
counties, there were no reported car jackings in 2021 and none thus far in 2022. Likewise, we
experienced a significant decrease in the number of juvenile delinquency cases we charged in
2021 as compared to each year of the past 10 years. In 2021, we charged 490 juvenile cases—105 of which were felony level cases as compared to 2020 when we charged 646 juvenile cases—170 of which were felony level cases.

My top public safety concerns are guns and drugs, which are often found together. The most prevalent drug in Dakota County is methamphetamine. In 2021, of the 458 felony level drug
cases we prosecuted, 298 of those involved methamphetamine. We aggressively prosecute
those selling/distributing drugs in our community. We also aggressively prosecute any crimes in
which a gun is used as well as those persons who are prohibited by law from possessing a
firearm because of a previous crime of violence conviction. Having said that, prosecution is not
a long-term solution. To reduce crime, we need to work on finding solutions to the root causes
of crime such as systemic racism, poverty, housing instability, and providing adequate services
for people with mental health and substance use disorders.

Elizabeth Lamin

(campaign site)

We need to bring a fresh perspective to the Dakota County Attorneys Office in order to better prepare for the changing criminal trends that we are experiencing. If elected, I will focus the resources of the Dakota County Attorney’s office on prosecuting violent crimes that threaten the safety and stability of our communities, not on criminalizing addiction and mental illness. Across the metro area, there has been an increase in carjackings, auto thefts, and catalytic converter thefts. We know that at-risk youth are largely behind the increase in carjackings and auto thefts. We also know that there are evidence-based programs that can help. Creating partnerships with community leaders and law enforcement to implement focused deterrence strategies that hone in on repeat offenders and at-risk youth must be a priority. As an accomplished prosecutor with over sixteen years of experience, I have handled thousands of criminal cases and worked with community partners to amend legislation. In partnership with law enforcement, I negotiated and drafted legislative statutes regarding scrapping of vehicles in 2013 to address increased auto theft and the selling of older vehicles for scrap metal. Most recently, I am working on a strategy of focused deterrence for addressing youth auto thefts by initiating a partnership in Ramsey County to bring together police, youth outreach workers, and community to proactively reduce auto theft recidivism. I will combine this experience along with community partnerships to help Dakota County become a model jurisdiction that uses evidence-based programs and outcome-based policies to reach real results.

Matt Little

(campaign site)

Matt will prioritize the following public safety measures:

COMBATING THE RISE IN CARJACKINGS: Creating a special unit devoted to investigating carjackings, and appointing prosecutors dedicated to stopping these crimes will help arrest the criminals and deter future crimes. Matt will dedicate two office attorneys, one for adults and one for minors, that will ensure that carjackings will face consequences quickly.

JUVENILE CRIME: Preventing juvenile offenders from becoming lifelong criminals will keep our neighborhoods safer, and fulfill a moral responsibility to our children. As County Attorney, Matt will ensure violent juvenile crime policies are updated to match their severity and advocate for increased changes to transparency laws at the state level.

GOING AFTER DANGEROUS DRUGS: Working with law enforcement to detain and charge distributors of these dangerous substances is a key priority for Matt. Matt also understands that purely punitive policy only encourages disparities and closes the door on rehabilitation. This means working not only with the police, but also with addiction treatment organizations.

FIGHTING ELDER ABUSE, SCAMS AND FINANCIAL CRIMES: Fraud affects people of all ages, but seniors are disproportionately targeted, so we need a focused response in addition to the current broad efforts to fight identity theft and other scams. Even worse, increasing reports of Elder abuse both in care facilities and with home care, are among the most vicious and morally reprehensible of all crimes. Preventing and prosecuting these crimes will be a high priority for Matt as Dakota County Attorney.

Jeff Sheridan

(campaign site)

As I have illustrated in my previous answers, we cannot incarcerate our way to public safety. “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” is a catchy slogan, but it is utterly detached from reality. In all but a tiny percentage of criminal cases, we never throw away the key. That means that the overwhelming majority of people who get incarcerated will be returning to the communities in which they offended. WE HAVE TO START LOOKING AT THE WAY THEY ARE RETURNING. Are we treating them as people who have “paid their debt to society,” or are they pariahs who we shouldn’t rent to or hire? Because if we fail to allow our neighbors legitimate ways to support themselves and their families, then how can we possibly expect they will not turn to illegitimate ways. And as long as that persists, we will never move the needle on public safety. As I’ve said before, everyone in the system needs to care about whether the disposition of every criminal case will result in successfully turning a person away from anti-social behavior. Because if it is not, why are we doing it? How has that solved the problem and made the community safer? We certainly will not succeed in making every person’s visit to the criminal legal system their last, but if I’m elected, it will no longer be because the Dakota County Attorney didn’t care enough to try. We have to get Smart on Crime!

Vote on August 9

The primary election is on Tuesday, August 9. Learn more about where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices.

See our 2022 primary voter’s guide for more on the candidates and other races.

Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to our questions.

Support West St. Paul Reader to ensure local election coverage can continue.

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