2022 Dakota County Commissioner election featuring Joe Atkins and Jimmy Francis

2022 Dakota County Commissioner Election: Public Safety

Thanks to The North 40 Tavern for their support. A north woods tavern somewhere in the middle of a big city. They regularly rotate tap beers, so stop in to see what’s currently flowing.

In Dakota County, the District 2 county commissioner—representing West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and parts of Inver Grove Heights—is on the ballot this year. 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 general election on November 8. See our 2022 voter’s guide for more.

This time we’re asking about public safety.

With the sheriff’s office, county attorney, and jail, Dakota County has a significant role to play in public safety. What’s the status of crime in Dakota County and what changes or improvements would you support?

Here are the candidates’ responses:

Joe Atkins

(campaign site)

When Dakota County beat out 3,080 counties nationwide to earn the National Association of Counties’ top award for public safety, I was honored to be the County Commissioner selected to accept it on Dakota County’s behalf. However, while obviously a proud moment for our county, I cautioned then and now that we cannot rest. Below are some ways we continue to tackle key public safety concerns, with a focus on mental health, crime prevention and rapid response
times.

  • Dakota County received a $6 million grant to fund construction of the Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response and Training (SMART) Center, where first responders from across Minnesota learn the most effective techniques for crisis intervention and deescalation. This makes tense situations safer for everyone involved.
  • Additional treatment resources are now available in the Dakota County Jail, where data shows 60% of inmates suffer from mental illness or chemical dependency. Effective treatment lessens repeat offenses.
  • Teaming a county social worker with West St. Paul Police for certain types of police calls enables more immediate treatment for those experiencing mental health issues. This also frees up officers to spend more of their time on the roads protecting the community.
  • Dakota County partners with local cities to handle 911 emergency calls, saving taxpayers over $15 million. Dakota911’s efficiency reduces the amount of time it takes for medical personnel, police and firefighters to arrive at an emergency scene. When minutes or even seconds count, this effective partnership is crucial to public safety.

Jimmy Francis

(campaign site)

I want to ask a bigger question here: what does a healthy community look like? I understand the effort to stop crime, and I think that conversation is important. But I feel like a picture of a healthy community could be conveyed. Where the officers know the community, the community knows its neighbors, and we look after one another. That sort of “community” feel. Because I believe the police and the sheriff’s departments are doing everything they can to fight crime. But when they are understaffed, not allowed to take vacations, and mandated to work overtime- there are bound to be gaps. If you combine that with another persistent problem—Judges being overloaded with cases—then we are bound to see an increase in crime. This is a systematic problem, and the solution is providing support to the people. We need a lot of work in this area, and it starts with an investment in the staff. A compensation study should be budgeted for and conducted, no less than every three years, to ensure compensation is equitable and keeps up with the ever-changing work environment. Employees should be benchmarked and compensated for their improvements. I am in full support of the Sheriff’s Department and the proposal to dedicate a wing for the improvement to the overall health and the mental health inmates receive. The jail system could really benefit from this new wing. It is a meaningful first step in creating real change in an outdated system.

Vote on November 8

The general election is on Tuesday, November 8. 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 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.

This local election coverage only happens thanks to the support of our members. Consider joining West St. Paul Reader to ensure local election coverage continues. Membership starts at just $3 per month.

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