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Are 'crime wave' claims out of place in Rochester?

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ROCHESTER — The police chief’s and sheriff’s participation in a public event here on Tuesday has raised concerns among some observers that the departments are willing to associate themselves with politically motivated scare tactics.

Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin will join a panel discussion titled “The Crime Crisis,” to discuss public safety in Rochester. The event is hosted by the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank headquartered in Minnesota.

The Rochester event summary asserts that rising crime is threatening Minnesotans’ sense of safety. Van Nest said that the Center scheduled the event in Rochester with their local chapter and that the location should not signal to attendees that the crime wave is targeting Rochester specifically.

A Center spokesperson said that rising crime is a statewide issue, claiming that “the sense of lawlessness” is trickling beyond the metro area to suburban cities.

Torgerson
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson

Torgerson said that a crime crisis has not touched Rochester and that rumors of increased crime are likely exaggerated.

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“We’re not having…an epidemic of carjackings, or anything like that,” he said.

Chief Jim Franklin.jpg
Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin.
Contributed

Franklin was unavailable for comment.

Olmsted County DFL Party leader Mark Liebow said he thinks the right-wing event is meant to scare voters about rising crime in the run-up to the election, so they’ll vote Republican.

They’re “trying to manufacture a crisis where none exists,” Liebow said.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, also a past legislator who was affiliated with the DFL, said she’s aware that groups like the Center can use scare tactics and public safety as a tool to divide a community politically. She believes Torgerson’s and Franklin’s presence on the panel will ensure the discussion is grounded in facts.

“We don't want a wild opinion to come to our community and spread untruths about someone else's view of what's happening,” Norton said. “I want them to know what Rochester’s story is.”

Rochester resident and business owner Abe Sauer expressed his concern that local police representatives are part of a panel that he believes will instill fear in voters for political gain.

“This is a charade,” he said. “By showing up, you legitimize the conversation.”

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As an elected official, Torgerson said it is his responsibility to join conversations with any group that invites him to provide a public safety perspective, no matter the political affiliation.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to a subject’s involvement with the discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. A review of a 2017 radio interview did not support an assertion that the subject was attached to that theory.

Molly Castle Work is an award-winning investigative journalist. She has investigated a range of topics such as OSHA and worker safety during COVID-19, racially-disproportionate juries and white-owned newspapers' role in promoting lynchings. Readers can reach Molly at 507-285-7771 or mwork@postbulletin.com.
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