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Minneapolis neighborhood residents say judge's ruling hinders efforts to stop criminal activity
Hennepin County probation officers can no longer arrest and hold suspected probation violators without a warrant. The judge who made the ruling says the practice conflicts with state rules of criminal procedure. But county corrections officials say the ruling will hamper the ability of probation officers to do their jobs and Minneapolis police say the ruling will make it harder for them to fight street crime.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Hennepin County Chief Judge Kevin Burke's ruling states that a probation officer can't place someone in custody without a judge's approval. In Minneapolis police are paired with probation officers in squad cars to monitor and sometimes arrest probationers who violate the terms of their release. Burke says the practice opens the county to lawsuits from probationers who believe they've been unfairly incarcerated.

"It makes no sense to me as the chief judge in Hennepin County to say that I'm going to intentionally ignore the Minnesota rules of criminal procedure and expose the distric court to a lawsuit for falsely arresting somebody or improperly arresting somebody," Burke says.

I wish they'd start holding court out here at Unity House or at the Fouth Precinct or something so they had to drive through this community and see what is going on.
- Anne McCandless

Burke's attempt to protect the county from costly lawsuits by people on probation has led to a suit from the Hennepin County Community Corrections Department. County Corrrections Program Manager Craig Vos says the ruling undermines authority already granted to probation officers by state law.

"There is this question of what did the Legislature intend to do when they passed that statute? Did they in fact intend to vest, with probation officers, an arrest authority independent of law enforcement and essentially the equivalent of a law enforcement arrest for probable cause?" asks Vos. Probation officers and police officers work together under the Minneapolis Anti-Violence Initiative. Police officials say the program has helped greatly reduce the number of homicides in the city since its introduction in 1997.

They say the program works in part, because probation officers have wider authority than police officers when it comes to handling probationers. They can enter the home of a probationer without a warrant and they can have a probationer held in custody for up to 72 hours. Vos says probation officers need to maintain their arrest authority. "Our agents are now out in the evening hours weekends, they come across people who are in obvious violation of probation and this is a tool that permits them to make an immediate response. The traditional get a warrant process simply doesn't work when you move to late evening hours or weekends, it's not very effective."

Vos says in these instances, it may take until the next day for the officer to get a signed warrant. And he says in the time it takes for an officer to get the warrant, the offender can hide out from the authorities.

"The probation department and the police department have to be very careful when they cooperate on joint ventures," he says.

Hennepin County public defender Jim Kamin says the main function of a probation officer is to facilitate rehabilitation, not arrest people. He says he worries that programs like the Minneapolis initiative blur the lines between police and probation officers. "If you have a joint operation and a police officer has a suspicion that he'd like to lean on that particular person, because he thinks -- without probable cause -- he has a hunch that that person is involved in something, there is a danger that they will use a probation officer's 72 hour hold power to affect a cop's desire to investigate a crime. And I don't know whether that's happening or not but that's certainly something we have to be alert to," Kamin says.

Police officials say the deployment of probation officers is most useful in combatting loitering. They say loitering is a serious problem because many homicides involve people who are hanging out on the street.

But Judge Burke says he doesn't think the ruling will have a dramatic affect on crime fighting. The ruling doesn't affect the authority of police officers to have someone held for eight hours for a suspected probation violation. He says the only change will occur when a probation officer wants to arrest someone for a violation that is not a crime. For instance, says Burke, a probationer has a curfew restriction and is spotted walking on the street past midnight.

"In this scenario, if they find this out and they've said 'OK, Kevin Burke was out at midnight last night and that's a violation of probation,' a judge, under the rule I just quoted to you can say, 'OK I'm going to issue a warrant. Go out and arrest him, because you've given me a written report which says he was out at midnight and this is how I know it,'" says Burke. But some residents of inner city neighborhoods say the judges don't really understand the impact this ruling will have.

"I wish the judges would come out here and start seeing it," says Anne McCandless, a retired police officer and community activist who lives in north Minneapolis.

"I wish they'd start holding court out here at Unity House or at the Fouth Precinct or something so they had to drive through this community and see what is going on."

McCandless says the courts are already too lenient with people who break the law and she says this ruling will allow more of them to get off easy. She says if a judge came to her neighborhood they would see groups of young men openly breaking the law - some sell drugs on street corners and some shoot craps on the sidewalk. McCandless says the worst part is that younger kids in the neighborhood see this all the time.

"Their parents are trying to tell them, 'hey - drugs are bad, you've got to stay in school, you've gotta do this, you've gotta do that.' And yet they see these people out there all the time doing this -- even getting caught doing this -- even to court doing this and they continue to do it. And they see these people literally thumbing their nose at the authorities," McCandless says.

Probation officials say the suit will be taken up in an appellate court later this month. Craig Vos says if the court rules in favor of Burke's order, he fears it could change the way probation officers carry out their duties throughout the state.

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