A trusted leader joins the effort to fight crime
Review Editor’s Note: Editorials represent the views of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.
Andy Luger is back as an American attorney from Minnesota, and it’s not too soon. Rarely has a calm and experienced prosecutor been more needed to help stem the tide of violent crime that has erupted in the Twin Cities metro area.
Luger, who led the office from 2014 to 2017, said during a visit to the Star Tribune editorial board that “the urgency of this issue is unlike anything I have ever seen”. Categories of crimes such as those committed with “ghost guns” and carjackings barely registered in Minnesota during Luger’s previous tenure and that of his immediate predecessor, Erica MacDonald, who left office in February 2021.
Today, Luger said, ghost guns, typically assembled from kits and available without background checks, are used in numerous crimes across the state. Carjackings, which numbered 177 in 2020, rose to 655 in Minneapolis alone. Additionally, Luger’s will also focus on shootings involving a weapon modification known as a “switch” that illegally turns handguns into automatic weapons.
In this context, Luger said that every prosecutor in his office, whether their specialty is violent crimes, white-collar fraud, drugs, crimes against children, mail theft or national security, will tackle crimes violence that violates federal law. It starts with itself. “I’ve already assigned myself a case of violent carjacking,” he told the editorial board.
“What I’m hearing from law enforcement, community leaders and others is that we weren’t able to handle all the important violent crime work that came our way. with just a violent crime section,” he said.
Few crimes have terrorized Minnesotans recently as much as the upsurge in violent carjackings in residential garages, mall parking lots, gas stations and elsewhere. Luger’s emphasis is the right one.
Luger said his office estimates about 1 in 5 carjackings are committed or organized by adults. These are not, he insisted, mere rides. “These are people who engage in violent, organized and premeditated behavior,” he said. In some cases, victims are beaten, held at gunpoint, coerced into opening apps and sending money or giving out PIN codes for ATMs.
Other cities have seen an increase in violent crime, he said, but Minneapolis, with its hobbled and understaffed police department, is more vulnerable than most.
There’s no denying that the past two years have wreaked havoc on the department. The pandemic, the unrest following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis officer, and the growing number of vacancies the city is struggling to fill have all taken their toll on what is arguably one of the most critical police services. in the state.
The US Department of Justice is still investigating wrongdoing at the MPD. Meanwhile, the state human rights department recently concluded a two-year investigation into the police department’s failings and racist culture. It’s entirely possible the city will soon act under not one but two consent decrees based on state and federal findings.
From a pre-pandemic peak of well over 800 officers, the MPD now has around 544 to police a city of more than 400,000 people. It is therefore not surprising that crime, especially violent crime, has increased and spread to the surrounding areas.
Lugar’s decision to marshal more resources into his office is part of a larger effort. Law enforcement officials announced earlier this month that state troopers would begin patrolling the streets three nights a week in parts of Minneapolis, while the Minneapolis Bureau of Criminal Arrest State would participate in local investigations.
BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said at the time that “Minneapolis is seeing a significant increase in violent crime, while at the same time, its police department is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of officers and investigators. BCA brings resources and expertise to help these communities meet this urgent need.”
Luger’s effort fits well with this all-hands-on-deck strategy. He knows other leaders, knows community groups and is widely respected. It is not without its detractors. Some have criticized his efforts under the program known as Countering Violent Extremism, which aimed to root out potential foreign terrorists. The editorial board supported this effort.
Then as now, Luger said he remains open to other approaches. “But what is the alternative?” he said. Unlike the 80s and 90s, “it’s not about low-level drug dealers or non-violent crimes. It’s about targeted, intentional violent offenders, often repeat offenders. … When people are beaten, bloodied, dragged , that their life is changed, how do you say no to this case?
There is, he said, a legitimate avenue for criminal prosecution. “If you don’t think we should prosecute people who commit violent crimes, then say so. Defend it,” he said. Luger said others could and should tackle the root causes of crime — and his office supports several crime-fighting programs — but he noted his priority was prosecuting criminals.
“What we’re not going to do,” he said of our collaboration with other agencies and prosecutors, “is fight each other. There’s too much work to do.”
Members of the editorial board are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and DJ Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune editor and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an advisor to the board.