Hennepin County Attorney’s Office: An Update from the Office

Minneapolis Government CenterThe year 2020 was one of great change, tremendous uncertainty, yet astounding resilience. Not only were we rocked by a global pandemic, which continues to affect many of us to this day, but also we were confronted, once again, by the sobering truths of systematic racism. Tragically, these practices have been part of our nation for decades—truths that our Black neighbors have had to endure for far too long.

In 2021, we must continue the fight to help ensureour futures are prosperous and fair. At the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the well-being of the community is at the forefront of the decisions we make, witnessed by our constant push for equality and disparity reductions—that work is woven into everything we do. During these tough times, we have made great strides in creating a more transparent justice system in Hennepin County, but our work cannot end until all citizens are treated equally.

Our Mission
Our office is founded on justice. While the interpretation of the word may vary from person to person, to us, justice means fairness and integrity. It means doing what is right, despite the obstacles. It means protecting the victims of crime and witnesses to crime. It means creating a work environment that is diverse and inclusive, one representative of the community we serve, and one that pushes the office toward a more just future.

We are ethically and morally bound to and by justice. And in order to better the lives of those around us, we must adapt, listen, and change, and be transparent in the process. The following undertakings show how we have begun to do that.

Expungements
In the fall of 2020, our office implemented new initiatives, through both the establishment of an online expungement tool and a new “how to” video designed to ensure residents with criminal convictions who have completed their sentences have access to the systems available to seal their criminal records.

Sealing a criminal record can make it a lot easier for people to find employment and housing and increases their access to education. These are the people in our community who have served their sentences and deserve a second chance at being productive members of society, like Hennepin County resident and employee Marlon Darden: “If you change who you are, they can’t help but to change how they see you,” Darden said. “My message to anyone who may be stigmatized due to a past crime is don’t get discouraged. Move forward . . . because you determine your own destiny.”

These expungement initiatives are in partnership with the Ramsey and Washington County Attorney’s Offices, and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

Bail Reform
At the beginning of 2021, our office built upon previous bail reforms by eliminating cash bail for a select 19 low-level, nonviolent felony offenses, ranging from fifth-degree narcotics crimes to damage to property and mail theft.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison support this new Hennepin County policy and say there need to be conversations about bail reform throughout Minnesota.

Our website (www.hennepinattorney.org) contains the full list of crimes for which bail is no longer requested in Hennepin County.

Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has also incorporated initiatives that create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We have developed a broader hiring pool by expanding our recruitment efforts to the broader community. We consciously promote those who show true leadership skills. Of our 10 most senior managers, seven are women and four are people of color.

Our law clerk program is perhaps our finest example of championing a diverse workplace and it has yielded meaningful results. For the past three years, our rate of hiring diverse law clerks reflects our diversity hiring goal of 50 percent. Having a diverse group of law clerks provides us with a deep pool for future attorney hires.

Race and equity workplans have been developed by all divisions within our office, and they are continually being updated to reflect new ideas, objectives, and goals. This ever-expanding, working document is a tangible example of our office’s dedication and commitment to building a stronger community, and creating equal opportunities for all regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or age.

Our new diversity and inclusion director is working together with Hennepin County administration and other external groups to coordinate all of our diversity and inclusion efforts. We believe this will be a critical next step to improving our internal and external work on diversity and inclusion.

Community Outreach

In a world that has gone virtual for nearly all forms of social interaction, members of our office, specifically those in our Community Engagement Unit, have brainstormed creative and innovative ways to reach the community during these challenging times. A prime example of this is through a retooled National Night Out. National Night Out has traditionally been a major event for our office. It’s an annual opportunity for us to go out into neighborhoods and to connect with the residents of Hennepin County, to listen to their concerns and ideas, and to share what our office is doing to help.

On average, more than 60 percent of our staff members participate in the event each year. Unfortunately, in 2020, COVID-19 did not permit us to go out and be with the community in-person. Instead, our office used social and digital media initiatives to connect with the community through a series of planned posts.

These posts, published throughout the month of October were focused on helping community members in these difficult, unpredictable times. We did this by creating and posting informational content, such as a video series on scam prevention during COVID-19, and a video explaining the implementation of the new expungement program. In doing so, our National Night Out social media campaign was able to connect with and reach more than 16,000 people virtually.

Aside from that specific event, our office works daily on ways to interact with the community. During the pandemic, we have hosted and participated in numerous virtual community events and presentations. This new approach to community outreach has proved to be quite successful, affording our office the opportunities to still engage with the public despite the uncertainty. If you are interested in having a virtual speaker from our office, there’s a form on our website you can complete.

Multilingual Messaging
In our office’s external communications to the community, we have implemented more multilingual messaging to reach a broader audience. Our recent video on scams surrounding COVID-19 vaccines can be found in four languages: Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and English. They are all distributed across our digital and social media platforms.

Our continued effort to connect with all community members in Hennepin County is incredibly important to ensure they receive relevant and accurate information and that we receive needed feedback. Multilingual messaging is at the forefront of that effort, and we will continue to explore ways in which we can best deliver content to the diverse community that comprises Hennepin County.

Our Website
To best inform the public, we offer information on our website about current cases our office is working on. There, residents can also find the latest news on what cases we have charged and their status, as well as visit our Data Dashboard to get a breakdown of the cases presented to our office. This dashboard has key information on criminal trends and tracks the successes achieved by our reforms.

Going Forward
The unique challenges presented in 2020, in turn, have created unique solutions. Our office and staff like so many others throughout the country have developed new skills and initiatives to address issues plaguing our society. And though we are proud of the achievements the office has made over the years, we know there is still much work to be done—and we are eager to do it.

We will continue to develop new initiatives, reforms, and plans to address diversity, equity, and inclusion; to work with our community partners to ensure justice is met for all; and to endeavor through expansion of our goals of transparency and accountability to reflect justice in everything we do.

Change takes time, but we will work on progressive change every day. We are resolute in our belief that justice should not be a privilege; it should be a right, accessible to all.