After one year in office, Moriarty delivering on a better vision for safety in Hennepin County
After one year in office, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty is delivering a better vision for safety in Hennepin County, with a new strategic framework to guide the office’s work. The first year saw an office reorganization to emphasize collaboration and problem-solving across the office. The first year has seen progress on multiple fronts: (1) increased and improved collaboration with law enforcement, (2) refocused prosecutorial approaches that are backed by data, (3) improved fairness of the system, and (4) support for law changes that improve the justice system. Reforms are building trust between the office and the community. Today, the office released a video highlighting some of the work of the first year. That video is available here:
Delivering on the Vision: First Year in Office
“For decades, we have seen the criminal legal system operate in a way that prioritizes punishment over any other function,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said. “We have the largest prison population in the world, but it hasn’t worked to make us safer. I’m extremely proud of the work we have done over the past year to shift that thinking, to focus on strategies that are proven make communities safer, and to prioritize accountability and transparency in a system that has had little of either for far too long. The staff in our office, both those who have been here a long time and those who are new, are the reason we have come so far in just a year. There is much work left to do and I look forward to all we can accomplish in the next three years and beyond.”
Some highlights and achievements from the first year are below.
New Strategic Plan
In the first year, the office developed and released a new strategic framework to guide the office’s direction. The framework includes updated mission and vision statements, and identifies strategic goals that will help the public better understand the office’s work and its efforts to achieve a safe, equitable, and just Hennepin County.
Improving Collaboration with Law Enforcement Partners
A key priority in the first year was improving relationships between the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners.
“To be successful, I knew trusted relationships with the chiefs were critical,” Moriarty said. “My pledge to them was they would have a voice in our administration. We can’t succeed without transparent relationships between our office and the more than 35 law enforcement agencies across Hennepin County. They know they can call me any time, they can ask any question, and they can challenge me. We won’t always agree but we should always be collaborating. I’m grateful that’s what I’ve experienced this first year.”
Increasing collaboration and communication was a key goal for the administration’s first year, spurring monthly meetings with police chiefs and the Hennepin County Sheriff. That collaboration has led to significantly improved relationships between the law enforcement agencies and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Law enforcement agencies have played a critical role in the office’s development of several new initiatives during the past year.
Brooklyn Park Police Chief Mark Bruley recently said at a press conference that, “[O]ne thing that has been refreshing with Mary is including law enforcement, specifically police chiefs, in a collaborative way.”
Moriarty also appointed a senior attorney to fill the new role of law enforcement liaison to all agencies across the county. This attorney has regular contact with chiefs and other law enforcement leadership, provides trainings, and is a key point of contact when questions arise.
Seeking input from law enforcement partners throughout the process of developing policy ensures more voices are represented and increases the quality of relationships and of initiatives and policies brought forth from the County Attorney’s Office.
Addressing Youth Auto Theft
The Youth Auto Theft Early Intervention Initiative was born out of consistent communication with and feedback from law enforcement partners around the county.
It debuted in June 2023 and represents one a key tool available to address youth auto theft. The new focused collaboration with Hennepin County law enforcement aimed at combatting youth auto theft. The initiative seeks to address challenges of the traditional model of court-ordered intervention at the end of a charged case and instead provide earlier opportunities for intervention and accountability.
“We cannot simply wait to prosecute crime after police make an arrest, we have a responsibility to try and prevent crime before it occurs,” Moriarty said when the initiative was launched. “For too long, law enforcement has known which kids were headed down the wrong path, but they didn’t have enough tools to intervene. No more. We must be proactive if we’re going to have a meaningful impact and improve community safety.
The initiative has seen early success with 80 youth being screened in and referred to services. Feedback from the families predominantly reflects that they are not surprised their child is displaying troublesome behavior and that they were unsure of what to try next.
Improving Youth Outcomes
More broadly, the office has focused intensively on improving outcomes for youth. The goal with youth is to improve community safety and wellbeing through both individual and system accountability that leads to positive outcomes for youth, families, and our communities, while simultaneously centering victims and their healing.
The focus began with an early reorganization of all units within the office that deal with children and families. Moriarty created a new Division of Children and Families, comprising youth prosecution, child protection, child support, and the office’s Be@School program.
Too often, these various units within the office would deal with the same children and families, addressing different issues, and not be aware of all the different ways the office was connected to the families. In fact, state law prohibits sharing of information directly between the units. By connecting the units in one division, the office is able to find creative ways of collaborating that respect data protections in state law while more comprehensively addressing the needs of families.
The office has also sought quicker, more effective interventions with youth referred for prosecution – sometimes even before they are referred. When a youth is referred to the youth prosecution division, the office strives must do everything in its power to:
- Ensure community safety by preventing the instant conduct from happening again or escalating.
- Center victims and support their healing.
- Seek interventions that will support the youth respondent to be successful in the future and reduce future system involvement.
Conviction Integrity and Fair Trials
Fair trials are the bedrock of the legal system. Without them, convictions may be overturned, innocent people can be convicted, and people who commit crimes can avoid necessary accountability. To address this, Moriarty implemented new measures to fulfill the constitutional obligation of the County Attorney’s Office to provide a fair trial.
The actions taken include establishing an Office of Professional Standards, hiring staff focused on compliance with “Brady/Giglio” requirements, and providing training to attorneys.
Throughout the process of developing these measures, the office engaged extensively with Hennepin County law enforcement agencies and city attorneys to collaboratively develop new procedures to conform with constitutional requirements.
The office’s efforts to recognize the importance of fair trials and to support conviction integrity recently led to the recognition that Marvin Haynes was wrongfully convicted in 2005 and Haynes’ subsequent release from prison.
Haynes’ conviction rested almost exclusively on eyewitness identification. There was no forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA. There was no video connecting him to the crime. The murder weapon was never recovered. Nationally, nearly 28 percent of exonerations involve eyewitness identification. Haynes’ conviction is now one of them.
Looking ahead to 2024, the office will continue to dedicate resources to ensuring conviction integrity and justice in sentencing practices.
Advocating at the Legislature
Moriarty is also leveraging the power of the largest public law office in the state to advocate for policy changes at the legislature that support the office’s vision of a safe, equitable, and just Hennepin County. Some of the bills and new laws supported by the office in the previous legislative session include:
- Public safety innovation package – in addition to monitoring trends and research on crime, a board distributed $86 million in 2023 for local policing to support investigation, reentry programs, victim services, co-responder programs, and juvenile diversion.
- Prosecutor Initiated Sentence Adjustment – incarceration in the United States grew 222% from 1980 to 2010, though there was not an increase in crime. The increase in incarceration was primarily due to changes in sentencing policies. The legislature gave prosecutors this new tool to address cases where the sentences received no longer serve the interest of justice, may no longer be needed to protect public safety, and may not be a good use of correctional resources
- Restore the vote – all Minnesotans who are not currently incarcerated for a felony conviction are now able to register to vote. Eligible 16- and 17-year-olds are now able to pre-register to vote, becoming automatically registered when they turn 18. The new law means 55,000 Minnesotans are newly enfranchised.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office will be just as active at the State Capitol in the legislative session beginning in February. Key priorities include:
- Establishing placement options for youth, with varying levels of security – the research and evidence is unambiguous that we can improve both community safety and outcomes for individual youth and families by implementing a community-based continuum of care that includes small residential placements with varying levels of security that are located within our communities.
- Supporting significant new investments to support victims of crime.
- Supporting effective policies that data demonstrates are effective in improving public safety.
Effective prosecution of violent crime and incapacitation of dangerous people
In the first year of her term, Moriarty has prioritized effective prosecution and sought lengthy terms of incarceration when it was necessary to protect public safety. Several cases this year resulted in lengthy prison sentences for serious crimes, including:
Many factors contribute to an area’s violent and non-violent crime rate, but the movement of these measures in Hennepin County is in the right direction.
- Violent offenses in Hennepin County dropped 11 percent in 2023.
- Homicides dropped by 21 percent in Hennepin County.
- Carjackings declined by 46 percent compared to 2022.
“As we look ahead to 2024, we will continue to pursue accountability of those who commit crime and healing for those who are harmed by crime,” Moriarty said. “We must continually ask ourselves if what we are doing is working. If it is not, we must adjust. When it is, we must have the courage to continue doing the right thing, even if there might be a more popular path in the short term. Long-term public safety demands we address crime in a way that is effective. That’s what we’ve sought to do in year one, and we will continue on that path.”