ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Minnesota needs more State Patrol troopers on its highways to curb speeding and fatal crashes, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told lawmakers Tuesday. He asked the legislature to provide funding to hire more troopers to patrol state roads, which hasn't happened in more than a decade.
This comes as traffic fatalities are on the rise, according to the department. As of Monday, there were 114 reported deaths, which is an increase from the 89 recorded at the same point in 2020. And the deadliest time for road travel during the summer months is only just beginning.
"We really do believe that additional troopers on the highways really make a difference in reducing the number of fatal crashes out there and we think that's an important part of the state government's responsibility," Harrington told a committee of Senate and House members discussing a transportation budget.
Harrington said State Patrol has not added road patrol troopers since 2005. Since then, he noted trends in speeding and traffic fatalities have increased.
In just the first four months of the year, law enforcement issued more than 100 speeding tickets for drivers going over 100 miles per hour, the top traffic safety enforcement official told WCCO late last month.
The House DFL budget proposal funds all of the requests from DPS, while the Senate version funds part of it. Harrington asked lawmakers to agree on the House version. The Senate proposal would fund 25 staff and equipment costs for 25 additional troopers, according to a draft of bill language.
Both plans also fund body cameras for all state troopers.
Harrington asked the legislature to consider making investments for further capitol security improvements, some of which are already underway.
Some of the project includes installation of new security kiosks, installation of metal detection systems, installation of blast resistant glass on vulnerable windows and installation of security cameras and key card readers, according to a security report.
That report said the projects to enhance security infrastructure have been underfunded.
"We've lived through the last couple of years with lots of threats," Harrington told the transportation policy conference committee. "We do really believe to keep the capitol a safe place, the people's place, we really need to do these enhancements."
CAPITOL FENCE TO COME DOWN AFTER LEGISLATIVE SESSION, 'ABSENT ANY CREDIBLE THREAT'
A chain-linked fence has surrounded the State Capitol since May 2020 following the death of George Floyd that sparked civil unrest. The chief of the Minnesota State Patrol has said the fence has protected the $695 million building as intended.
The state recently installed an updated fence ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial verdict that officials said is sturdier than the previous fence. Both fences cost taxpayers more than $200,000.
The Minnesota Department of Administrations said Tuesday that "absent any credible threat to the building, the recommendation from both state agencies is to remove the fencing after the legislative session ends."
Earlier Tuesday, Harrington told lawmakers the department's position is that officials remove the barricade "shortly."
A report from the committee tasked with overseeing capitol security says in order to tear down the fence, the "threat to the building and its habitants" should be "low enough to effectively manage."
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