In the Spotlight

News & Features
Norm Coleman: Crime
By Martin Kaste
September 1, 1998

Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98

AT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY CONVENTION IN JUNE, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman said he supported the whole party platform, including a provision that calls for "a responsible, competent citizen's right to self-defense through gun ownership and a 'must issue' carry permit system." Democrats interpreted that to mean he favored a kind of wild-West situation where everyone packs a piece, and they instantly turned it into a campaign issue, calling the idea "crazy" and "irresponsible." Smarting from their attacks, Coleman struck back.

Coleman: I'm really offended by talking about somehow we're going to be putting guns in the hands of moms at soccer games and at the Mall of America. So I just need you to know that that whole issue is a little diversion by people who have not been at the table.
Coleman has recently clarified his position on concealed-carry laws, saying he just wants to standardize the permitting process so that someone who can get a concealed weapon permit in a rural area can also expect to qualify for one in Minneapolis or St. Paul. He's also eager to get beyond the issue and talk about his overall crime-prevention record. Of all the people running for governor, he says he's the one with the most experience.

Coleman: I come to this position first as mayor of an urban center. We have dropped violent crime in St. Paul. I was chief prosecutor in the AG's office. I was a criminal justice coordinator, I drafted the laws that increased the laws for violent crimes committed on behalf of a gang, and by the way, I was criticized at the time that those were racist statutes! We got a lot of criticism from a lot of folks!
Coleman says his early recognition of the gang threat has now been vindicated. He says now the next governor should build on the anti-gang measures already in place.

Coleman: We need to be doing things like strengthening the State Gang Task Force which, by the way, was created on the model we built in St. Paul, and then we joined with Ramsey County, and then on that model we have a State Gang Task Force. The state needs to be working vigorously with local officials in dealing with the issue of crime, and drugs, and violence.
The biggest short coming of Minnesota's criminal justice system, Coleman says, is the way many suspects are released without going to trial or serving time. He says he supports crime prevention and social outreach programs, but none of that should distract the system from its primary duty.

Coleman: It's nice to talk about rehabilitation, but the criminal justice system really is about taking bad people off the streets. I think when we got tougher ... and I'll say this: in Minneapolis we saw a change. When the governor sent in the State Patrol, when we increased the level of enforcement, we saw a change.

Coleman says he'd take that kind of zero-tolerance policy statewide with tougher mandatory sentences for repeat offenders and gang members caught using guns. He says he'll also have the system come down harder on juveniles by requiring courts to try more of them as adults. Right now, courts treat 16-year-olds as adults for certain violent offenses; Coleman says that age should be lowered to 14 in some cases.

Norm Coleman points to his native New York as the model for crime prevention in Minnesota.

Coleman: I ask people all the time, I say, "How many of you have been to New York lately?" And if they raise their hand, I ask, "What do the cab drivers say?" And the cab drivers say, "It's safe!" Times Square, which was the center of debauchery, is now the center of Disney! If New York is safer then any town, any village, any neighborhood in Minnesota can be safe.
And the way to achieve what New York has, Coleman says, is to nip crime - even small infractions - in the bud, before they lead to more serious crime.