The Gubernatorial Gang

Minnesota pols never stand so tall as when they loom over black youths.

GOV. ARNE CARLSON vetoed a proposed pilot program for a statewide gang task force two years ago. But as the prevailing political winds have grown chillier, the governor has warmed up to the idea. He now touts a proposal set to come before the Legislature this session that aims to track and identify alleged gang members.

Meanwhile Attorney General Skip Humphrey, who happens to be preparing a run for governor himself, will send his own gang plan to the state House of Representatives. Humphrey's and Carlson's proposals share some common features. Both call for the creation of an intelligence network to help local cop shops trade information with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; both request 10 new BCA investigators devoted to gang matters. But while Carlson's proposal focuses on the Twin Cities metro area, the Humphrey version targets the entire state.

One perennial problem with gang intelligence has to do with the criteria used to classify people as gang members in police databases. Humphrey executive assistant Eric Johnson vows "fairness and relevance" in the building of police records. "For example, let's say that if someone has two out of five identifying traits. In one jurisdiction they are considered a gang member. In a neighboring city, that might not be appropriate." Got that? Traits that might land a person on a gang roster range from the wearing of "gang colors" or having certain kinds of tattoos to associating with others who are suspected of gang affiliations.

THE MINNEAPOLIS POLICE Department's troubles over shoddy handling of seized drugs, money, and goods have only begun. Days after procedures in the department's "property room" were blasted by state auditors, a Minneapolis man asked the courts for more than $50,000 in damages for things he says the department took from him without due process. Russell Marvin Swart pled guilty to drug possession with intent to sell after a 1992 raid in which police found heroin at his house. Records indicate the cops also confiscated three cars, several bank accounts, and the house itself--plus a laundry list of items they claimed were stolen, such as bedsheets (still in their packages), suits, stereo equipment, Timberwolves tickets, and so on. All of those things were eventually sold or destroyed, according to Swart's complaint, without his ever getting notification or a hearing. As of CP's deadline, city attorneys had not yet reviewed the complaint. But they, like everyone else, could rest assured that it won't be the last such suit that's filed.

WORKERS AT THE University of Minnesota Hospital--make that, as of January 1, Fairview-University Medical Center--no longer have a union. For more than a year, the employees protested, petitioned the Legislature, called newspapers, and generally did everything to get Fairview Health System to recognize their local of the Association of State, County, and Municipal Workers. No luck. Instead, some 1,000 people became "noncontract employees" at the stroke of midnight New Year's Day. Now the workers have asked the National Labor Relations Board to let them vote on creating a new AFSCME local. Fairview spokeswoman Jean Tracy says the new bosses have no response other than to note that "certainly, employees have the right to have an election."

NORTHERN STATES POWER keeps coming back to Indian reservations. Though the company hasn't announced it publicly, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday that an NSP-led consortium of utilities has "reached an agreement" with the Skull Valley Goshute-- a 200-member band on a desert reservation in western Utah--with the intent of building a temporary disposal facility for used nuclear fuel. NSP project manager Scott Northard says the facility, which could start operating in 2002, would help the utility keep its nuclear plants going after in-plant pools and outside storage casks fill up.

Politically, the project could become useful to NSP even sooner. Back in 1994, the utility cited similar plans to build a dump on Mescalero Apache land in New Mexico as a means of proving that waste storage at Prairie Island would be merely temporary. The Mescalero eventually turned NSP away, but not before the utility had won lawmakers' approval to put a limited number of storage casks at Prairie Island. "The way it looks to me," says Sean Bjoralt of the advocacy group Prairie Island Coalition, "is that any day now, they'll pull [the Skull Valley proposal] from their sleeve and say, 'See, we have another alternative, so go ahead and give us more casks.'"

 
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