Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud fielded questions from local business leaders recently on everything from use of force, to police defunding, to legalization of marijuana.
Speaking at a Waconia Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Kamerud acknowledged that law enforcement has changed considerably in the wake of attention from recent high-profile police shootings and encounters, including the death of George Floyd.
Discussion on a local level, he said, hasn’t been about defunding the police, but about re-funding or changing funding, taking dollars from one budget to another. For example, the sheriff’s department recently hired a mental health co-responder to fill a deputy vacancy.
Law enforcement isn’t the best resource for every kind of call, but usually the first one people go to because of its 24/7 nature, Kamerud said. He indicated the mental health co-responder approach is working well and a second might be hired.
In terms of reforms, while the prescribed approach used to be to de-escalate a situation quickly, the approach now is to take more time to de-escalate, and evaluate if a mental health issue is involved, Kamerud explained. While the approach may help avoid some fatalities, it can also pose increased threats to responding officers, he said.
In regard to visibility, the sheriff’s department has been getting input on the use of body cameras from a citizen advisory board. The cameras are useful in securing evidence and in police force transparency, Kamerud said, but there have previously been privacy concerns and funding limitations. With those resolved and a budget and technology infrastructure being put in place, county deputies are expected to be equipped with body cameras later this year.
In response to a question about legalization of marijuana, Kamerud said even now persons in possession of small amounts of marijuana are unlikely to be convicted of a crime. Under state law, cannabis in Minnesota is illegal for recreational use, but decriminalized for possession of 42.5 grams or less.
While recent public opinion seems to sway toward legalization, Kamerud cautioned that in Colorado and Oregon where pot is legal both states have seen increases in crimes of violence, robberies and vehicle crashes. Whether there is a direct cause and effect relationship has not been confirmed, but sheriffs in those states are concerned, Kamerud said.
The local sheriff also highlighted the challenge in hiring law enforcement officers. Some have left the profession and pool of qualified candidates has declined, Kamerud said, although he did note that Carver County is still considered a desirable area to serve.
Finally, the Citizen’s Academy offered by the sheriff’s office where the public can learn first-hand about the law enforcement agency that serves their community is likely to resume in the third quarter, Kamerud said. The in -person sessions had to be cancelled last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.