Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

Before I was elected to the Senate, I served for eight years as the chief prosecutor for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and 45 suburbs. I know firsthand the vital role our law enforcement and public safety officers serve in keeping our citizens safe.

In recent years, especially since 9/11, we have placed ever greater responsibilities on our police officers, firefighters, and first responders, who have been expected to significantly expand their abilities to respond to crises. At the same time, law enforcement budgets have been stretched increasingly thin.

As we work to restore fiscal discipline to our budget, we must also ensure that on the local, state, and federal levels we provide the necessary resources to hire new police officers, purchase vital equipment, train law enforcement personnel, and acquire information systems to coordinate communications among first responders and various criminal justice agencies.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Law Enforcement Caucus, I believe we owe it to our public safety officers to make sure they have the technologies and tools they need to do their job safely and effectively.

As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:

  • Providing our state and local law enforcement with critical tools to protect our communities.  We must enhance and expand the programs that support local authorities as they prepare for and react to local crises or homeland security threats.  The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne Justice Assistance Grant programs have proven effective at providing state and local law enforcement with the support they need to hire, train, and equip public safety officers.  As chief prosecutor for Minnesota's largest county, I saw what a difference it makes when law enforcement officers can actually create a partnership with local communities in Minnesota.  I will continue to champion these programs as well as other key federal initiatives for law enforcement and public safety.
  • Enhancing cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement.  We must continue to target violent crime and drug-related crime through partnerships among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  I've seen the tragic impact of the prescription drug and heroin epidemic across Minnesota and the recent rise of synthetic drug use in our cities and suburbs.  To tackle this, we must continue to support partnerships between law enforcement agencies with an emphasis on enforcement and treatment of addiction.
  • Improving police/community relations.  I have long supported important policies including more law enforcement resources, videotaped interrogations, reforms to the eyewitness process, body cameras, diversity in hiring, and meaningful work between law enforcement and our citizens.  I believe that we need to focus on both public safety and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
  • Countering violent extremism.  We must make our country safer by rooting out the evil in our midst.  ISIS has proven that they will go to extraordinary lengths to recruit U.S. citizens who could come back and foster extremism in our communities.  One way to effectively stop this type of recruitment is for law enforcement to work hand-in-hand with local communities and to empower local leaders with tools to help keep young people off the path of extremism.
  • Responding to the rise of prescription and synthetic drug abuse.  Prescription drug abuse is now highest among young adults and has also increased rapidly among teenagers.  The majority of teens who abuse these drugs get them for free, usually from friends and relatives, and often without their knowledge.  Heroin deaths are rising in Minnesota, and four out of five heroin users got their start using legal prescription drugs.  We must provide consumers with safe and effective means of disposing of prescription drugs so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.  In the last few years we have seen an alarming rise in the production, sale, and use of synthetic narcotics.  These new designer drugs have taken many lives, and we need to give law enforcement the tools they need to fight this problem and addicts the treatment they need to kick the habit.
  • Protecting children from predators – both on the streets and on the Internet.  In a fast-changing society, parents need all the help they can get to protect their children from emerging threats to their safety.  Federal support is essential to local law enforcement and the criminal justice system to make sure sex offenders and other potential predators can be identified before they are able to prey on any victims.
  • Combating Sex Trafficking.  In Minnesota, on any given night, dozens of underage girls are sold for sex online.  As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to have policies in place that help victims break free from abuse.  We must give prosecutors the tools they need to tackle sex trafficking and help make sure victims of these horrific crimes receive the support they need.
  • Preventing domestic violence.  During my eight years as county attorney, I saw first-hand how domestic abuse destroyed families.  In these difficult economic times, victims should never feel forced to choose between personal safety and financial stability.  I am committed to ensuring that women and children have the resources they need to protect themselves from violence, leave abusive situations, and hold their abusers accountable. 

  • Enhancing online privacy and going after cybercrimes and hacking.  More and more Americans rely on the Internet to shop, pay their bills, and connect with family and friends.  At the same time, online sites and advertisers have become ever more sophisticated at tracking and gathering information about our online behavior, raising concerns that consumers’ privacy may not be properly protected.  Advertising can enhance consumers’ online experience by providing the revenue to support free online news content and services, but consumers also deserve strong data security standards and safeguards so they can be confident that their information is secure.  In recent years, cybersecurity breaches have affected Minnesota businesses and consumers.  It is more important than ever that we take steps to strengthen our nation’s cyber security and fight cybercrime.  Since I came to Congress, I have worked to provide the Department of Defense and our law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to strengthen our cybersecurity.  I will continue to advocate for measures that ensure consumer confidence in online privacy and security of information. 
  • Making our roads and highways safer.  Too many drivers are texting behind the wheel or driving under the influence.  The consequences of bad driving are devastating and demand greater action – no text message is worth dying for.  As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to keep our roads safe and will continue to work to enact laws that prevent distracted driving.  This is particularly important for teen drivers.  Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of American teens, and drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old are three times more likely to get in a crash than older drivers per mile driven. We must encourage safe practices and smart programs for training new drivers.

As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I’ve been fighting to strengthen our commitment to public safety:

  • Combating the prescription drug and opioid abuse epidemic.  Along with three other senators, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).  The bill became law in July 2016.  This bipartisan legislation encourages states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies in the fight against addiction, including expanding access to naloxone among law enforcement and other first responders.  I have also introduced another bill, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, to require states that receive certain federal funding to have prescription drug monitoring programs that use best practices to stop the kind of “doctor shopping” that facilitates addiction.  We know that opioid addiction too often begins with the abuse of legal prescription painkillers, and with this bill, we can do something about that.  In addition, we must continue working to help those suffering from addiction to access the treatment that they need.  I have introduced the LifeBOAT Act with Senator Joe Manchin that simply places a one-cent fee on each milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill to create a permanent stream of funding for substance abuse treatment.

  • Championing the COPS and Byrne JAG programs.  With federal law enforcement budgets increasingly targeted for reductions, I have successfully fought to defend funding for the COPS program, which has a proven record of reducing crime by helping local police departments put more officers on the street.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $1 billion for the COPS hiring program to help save over 5,000 law enforcement jobs and keep cops on the front lines in communities across America.  That’s why I introduced the COPS Improvement Act to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the United States hire and train law enforcement officers to participate in community policing, deploy new crime-fighting technologies, and develop and test new and innovative policing strategies.  I have also fought to maintain funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which provides support to local law enforcement authorities for multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, anti-gang efforts, specialized prosecutors, and other crime-fighting initiatives.
  • Improving police/community relations and criminal justice reform.  I was a cosponsor of the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee in October 2015.  I have also long supported policy changes, including police training, videotaped interrogations, reforms to the eyewitness process, body cameras, diversity in hiring, and more law enforcement resources.
  • Countering violent extremism.  I have repeatedly asked the Administration for the strongest level of funding for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts that promote community engagement and work to prevent radicalization.  In 2014, Minnesota received $216,000 in federal funding to create a pilot program to address violent extremism.  In 2015, I voted to approve more than $50 million dollars to address CVE, including $10 million in local community grants.
  • Providing first responders with life-saving communications tools.  I was an original cosponsor of the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act to allow for state-of-the-art technology that will help first responders in both rural and urban communities at no cost to taxpayers.  I helped pass legislation to implement a nationwide wireless network to allow our first responders to clearly communicate when disaster strikes and focus on doing what they do best – saving lives.  As co-chair of the Next Generation 9-1-1 Caucus, I am working with members of both parties to reauthorize the federal 9-1-1 Coordination Office. This is an effort to manage the transition to the Next Generation 9-1-1 emergency response system based on high-speed digital wireless networks  This provision also will fund $115 million in federal grants to upgrade 9-1-1 call center technologies.  I have also introduced the bipartisan Kari’s Law Act to ensure that dialing 9-1-1 from multi-line telephone systems – like those used at many businesses, college campuses, and hotels – is as simple and efficient as possible.
  • Combating sex trafficking.  I was a lead sponsor of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which was signed into law in May 2015.  This bipartisan legislation boosts support for and protection of victims of human trafficking by increasing law enforcement resources, enhancing victims’ services, and increasing penalties in an effort to combat child sex trafficking, child pornography, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.  I also authored the comprehensive bipartisan Stop Exploitation through Trafficking Act (SETT), which was enacted into law as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.  My provision gives prosecutors the tools they need to tackle sex trafficking and help make sure victims of these horrific crimes receive the support they need.  The bill is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” law, which helps ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but rather are treated as victims.  I also introduced the Stop Trafficking on Planes (STOP) Act to require training for flight attendants to recognize and report suspected incidents of human trafficking.  A provision based on my legislation was included in the FAA reauthorization bill that was passed into law in July 2016.  Finally, I have introduced legislation to ensure funding for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which provides 24-hour service, including forwarding tips to law enforcement and connecting victims of trafficking with resources and support.
  • Supporting Drug Courts.  During my time in the Senate I have fought to provide critical support to the nation’s drug courts.  Drug courts divert non-violent, substance abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment.  The drug court model is one of the most successful, cost-effective tools for cutting recidivism rates and reducing crime in our communities.  Three out of every four people who graduate from these programs are not arrested again—a 75 percent success rate, compared to just 30 percent in the traditional system. Drug courts also save taxpayer dollars by an average of $3,000 to $13,000 per person.  Every $1 invested in drug courts saves more than $3 in criminal justice costs alone, and as much as $27 on fewer emergency room visits, and lower health care, foster care, welfare, and property loss costs.  By using drug courts for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, we do more than just punish people for breaking the law.  We can help people get clean and sober and make them productive members of society.
  • Stemming the growing epidemic of metal thefts.  According to one FBI report, “organized groups of drug addicts, gang members, and metal thieves are conducting large scale thefts from electric utilities, warehouses, foreclosed and vacant properties, and oil well sites for tens of thousands of dollars in illicit proceeds” every month.  I authored the bipartisan Metal Theft Prevention Act to deter thieves from the lucrative practice of stealing high-priced metal from public and private infrastructure.
  • Banning synthetic drugs.  I introduced the Combating Designer Drugs Act to ban the substance known as 2C-E, a synthetic hallucinogen, and eight other similar substances.  This legislation was a response to a tragic event in March 2011 where a Minnesota teenager died and ten others were hospitalized after overdosing on 2C-E.  I also cosponsored two additional pieces of legislation to ban synthetic drugs. These bills banning dangerous synthetic drugs were signed into law in July 2012.  Since then, I have introduced the Synthetic Abuse and Labeling of Toxic Substances (SALTS) Act, which would make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of new synthetic drugs that are “analogues” – or substantially similar to current illegal drugs.
  • Allowing for safe disposal of prescription drugs.  I authored the bipartisan Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act – which was signed into law by President Obama in October 2010 – to provide consumers with safe and responsible ways to dispose of unused controlled substances.  This law allows individuals and long-term care facilities to deliver the most dangerous prescription drugs to law enforcement officials for safe disposal and also promotes the development and expansion of drug take-back programs.
  • Fighting cell phone theft.  Nearly one-in-three robberies involve cell phone theft, with criminals targeting smartphones for their high resale value and for the valuable personal and financial information they contain.  I introduced the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, which would require the wireless industry to move forward with installing “kill switch” technology on all smartphones that will protect consumer data on the phone and allow consumers to render the device inoperable if the phone is stolen.  After the initial push in 2014, wireless and device companies, including Apple, AT&T, Google, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon, committed to install kill switch technology on new smartphones.  I am working to make sure manufacturers and providers make good on this commitment and continue to take steps to ensure all consumers have access to the most advanced technologies to protect their smartphones and personal information.
  • Protecting driver’s privacy.  I authored the Driver Privacy Act in 2014 and 2015 along with Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota to make clear that the owner of the vehicle is the rightful owner of the data collected by a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder (EDR).  An EDR temporarily stores data from the vehicle’s safety systems following a crash.  While EDRs provide important data that can be used to better protect passengers, we need to ensure consumers’ privacy is being protected.  The Driver Privacy Act was included in the long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill that was passed into law in December 2015.
  • Helping law enforcement find missing children.  In the 112th Congress, I authored the bipartisan Access to Information about Missing Children Act with Senator John Cornyn of Texas to help federal, state, and local law enforcement locate missing children whose whereabouts could be discovered though basic information on federal tax returns.  This legislation has been supported by Patty Wetterling, my friend and a child safety advocate, whose son, Jacob, was kidnapped and killed near his family’s home in St. Joseph, Minnesota in 1989.  I introduced bipartisan legislation, the Recovering Missing Children Act, with Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Mike Enzi of Wyoming to help law enforcement locate missing and exploited children.  Our bill was signed into law in July 2016.
  • Supporting victims of assault, abuse, and stalking.  I cosponsored and helped lead the effort to pass the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in March of 2013, which updated the landmark legislation that has had a profound role in protecting women and supporting the victims of sexual and domestic violence.  The law includes provisions from my bipartisan STALKERS Act to improve federal anti-stalking laws and protect victims by providing prosecutors with tools to combat the growing threat of cyberstalking.  I also supported the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Database Act, which was signed into law in 2006 and established a publicly available national database of sex offenders.  And I have worked to combat the heartbreaking crime of child abuse by introducing the National Child Protection Training Act, which would help train child protection professionals, such as teachers, doctors, and prosecutors, to detect and prevent child abuse.  Finally, I have also introduced a bipartisan bill to protect victims of stalking from gun violence. 
  • Shielding children from inappropriate content.  I cosponsored the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which helps parents protect their children from inappropriate website content by requiring the Federal Trade Commission to implement a national educational campaign to promote the safe use of the Internet by children and directing the U.S. Commerce Department to create a private sector working group to evaluate industry efforts to promote online safety.  I also support new technologies that give parents greater control over what their kids see on television and what they can do on the Internet.  As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I will continue to fight for additional protections to safeguard children against online predators.
  • Strengthening aviation safety standards.  I introduced the bipartisan Aviation Safety Enhancement Act to toughen airline safety rules and bring an end to the cozy relationship that has developed between airlines and some federal regulators.  A number of the important provisions from this bill were included in the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, which passed the full Senate with broad bipartisan support in February 2011.  I have also pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to issue much-needed updates to airline safety standards to combat pilot fatigue, which went into effect in January 2014 for passenger pilots.  I continue to advocate for these safety measures be extended to cargo pilots.  In October 2016, the Department of Transportation announced actions to protect air travelers and promote airline competition.  These new actions build on previous efforts, like the Passenger Bill of Rights, and will help ensure that consumers have access to more accurate information, so they can make informed decisions when choosing a flight.  They also expand other consumer protections, including passenger refunds for delayed baggage.
  • Preventing carbon monoxide deaths.  Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide poisoning results in the deaths of an estimated 500 Americans each year.  I have been working to strengthen standards for carbon monoxide alarms and increase safeguards for portable gas-powered generators to prevent deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning.  My work on this issue has been inspired in part by Cheryl Burt of Rochester, Minnesota, whose two young sons (ages 16 months and four years) died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning furnace in 1996.  I introduced the Nicholas and Zachary Burt Memorial Carbon Monoxide Prevention Act authorizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue grants as an incentive for states to strengthen their building code laws requiring carbon monoxide monitors in homes and other public facilities.  The Senate Commerce Committee passed this bill in December 2015, and I will continue to push for a vote on this legislation by the full Senate.

  • Improving teen driver safety.  Mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal car crashes as other drivers.  Becoming a safe driver requires experience and practice.  To help reduce teen driving deaths, I introduced the Students Taking Action for Road Safety (STARS) Act to use peer-to-peer prevention strategies to educate teens about the dangers of everything from drunk driving and speeding, to using seatbelts and texting while driving.  This bill will help bring together law enforcement, educators, and local communities to give our teen drivers the tools they need to become responsible drivers and make our roads safer.  I also joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce the STAND Up Act to encourage states to adopt graduated driver license programs that have proven effective at reducing the crash risk of new drivers by introducing teens to the driving experience gradually, phasing in full driving privileges over time in lower risk settings, and teaching them to eliminate distractions that cause accidents.  Provisions from both of these bills were included in the surface transportation reauthorization bill that was signed into law in July 2012.  In June 2014 and May 2015, I introduced the Improving Driver Safety Act, which would help ensure that more states can access critical funding to improve distracted driving enforcement and public education.  This legislation, as well as my provision to enable more states to qualify for federal funding for graduated driver license programs, were included in the long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill that was passed into law in December 2015.

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