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Appointment of public safety boss raises new concerns for civil liberties
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As a legislator, Stanek chaired the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. At times he's been a lightning rod for controversy. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty has appointed a Republican House member and inspector for the Minneapolis Police Department as his public safety commissioner. Pawlenty says Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, has the credentials to handle the job. Stanek has been instrumental in passing tougher crime sentences and getting money for equipment for local police and firefighters. However, Stanek's critics say he has an abrasive personality and they worry about his track record on civil rights.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty says Stanek has a triple crown's worth of experience. He says Stanek's experience as a street cop, administrator, and lawmaker will be instrumental in overseeing the department with 1,900 public safety employees.

"He has led just about every new law enforcement initiative of significance in recent years in the Minnesota House. Including anti-terrorism legislation including the felony DWI legislation," he said.

As a legislator, Stanek chaired the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. At times he's been a lightning rod for controversy. He advocated a law to color code driver's licenses to identify visitors who are in the U.S. as temporary residents. He also opposed the mandatory collection of data to see if racial profiling occurs in Minnesota police departments.

The state and city of Minneapolis have also settled lawsuits that were a result of his actions as a police officer. Stanek says he had no control over the settlement of those lawsuits. He also defends his 19 years in law enforcement.

"Am I shy? No," he said. "Gov. Pawlenty didn't appoint me to be shy and timid. He appointed me to do a good job on behalf of the people of Minnesota. And I'm going to do that."

Police and firefighters applaud Stanek's appointment. Newport Police Chief Veid Muiznieks says he knew the Maple Grove Republican when Stanek started working at Cottage Grove. He says Stanek is a determined and serious police officer who was always prepared. At one point, Muiznieks called Stanek a taller "Joe Friday."

"He's a cop's cop. He's had experience in administration and also he's spent a number of silly seasons at the Capitol. What? Ten years? So he knows how that game works and that's important," Muiznieks said.

Other police chiefs say they're concerned about budget cuts to public safety. West St. Paul Police Chief Terrance Cook says Stanek needs to focus on the state's CriMNet system, which will link criminal records at the state's 1,100 law enforcement agency. Cook says Stanek also needs to protect funding for the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprhension.

"There are technologies that the state can add to the lab and people that we can add to the state lab to speed up the prosecution of cases. They're understaffed and underfunded and it can take several months to get an important case through the BCA lab," Cook said.

Others worry that Stanek's reputation as a cop's cop may create a bad fit for a job that needs the deft touch of a diplomat.

Last year, Stanek shouted at citizens and lawmakers during debate on anti-terrorism legislation. Rich Neumeister, a citizen and privacy expert, attended those meetings. He called Stanek a "straight shooter," but has deep concerns about the appointment.

"One of the concerns that I do have is that direct, abrasiveness that sometimes I have seen in committee hearings. Or that challenge or combativeness. It's important not to have that as being commissioner of public safety," according to Neumeister.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, worked on several conference committees with Stanek. She and Stanek have been at odds on certain bills over the years. Ranum says she's concerned Stanek may be willing to ignore civil liberties to protect the state from terrorism.

"It is a challenge for Rep. Stanek that he does not make the mistake in Minnesota that I believe is causing some people across this country to have concerns about making sure that in a time of war that we don't repeat the mistakes that were made in World War II," she said.

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