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Minneapolis’ effort to ‘dismantle’ the city’s police department has become a campaign issue — in the suburbs

City council candidates in suburbs around the Twin Cities report that voters are asking if they’re planning on taking money away from the local force.

Protesters rallying near the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct on May 27. The building was burned on May 28.
Protesters rallying near the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct on May 27. The building was burned on May 28.
REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

Minneapolis doesn’t have city elections this year. But many of the suburban communities outside it do. And questions about “defunding” the police have spilled over into many of those elections.  

Candidates for suburban city council seats generally get asked similar questions, often about infrastructure and development in their communities. Come this election cycle, however, the first since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and the city council’s subsequent discussion about “dismantling” the Minneapolis Police Department, suburban voters are adding another frequent inquiry: what candidates think about the funding for their city’s police.

In Maplewood, according to city council candidate Nikki Villavicencio, the idea of defunding the local department is “easily one of the most common issues people have brought up.” 

Likewise for Kenny Nelson, a candidate for city council in Osseo. “Of the residents I’ve talked to so far, most have brought up the police department,” he said.

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“I have encountered the question,” about defunding, said Edina City Council candidate Carolyn Jackson. “Interestingly, more so on the east side of Edina, which abuts Minneapolis, than the west side.”

Not every suburban candidate in every community is encountering the question, of course. In Oakdale, Council Member Kevin Zabel said he hasn’t encountered any voters asking about defunding the city’s police during his re-election campaign. And David Cummings, who is running for city council in Crystal, also said he has not been asked any defunding questions.

Crystal Mayor Jim Adams, who is also campaigning for re-election this fall, said the defund question comes up, though only from constituents who believe that Crystal’s department should not lose any money. 

The “defund” idea can be slippery and confusing, and often conflates ideas ranging from reforming to even abolishing police departments. In Minneapolis, “dismantle” has been used to describe a process its supporters say would create a new public safety system — with fewer traditional peace officers but with other services. In other contexts, defund can mean shifting funds toward new training or trimming certain areas of a department’s budget.

In Maplewood, Villavicencio says the question has less to do with voters wanting to talk about specific dollar amounts for Maplewood police than it’s a way to get her overall perspective on public safety and budgeting. 

Gordon Vizecky, running for city council in Richfield, said he’s had a similar experience. “The only folks who have come out and directly asked are via email,” he said. “On social media, it seems to be coded questions where voters want to understand what I mean when talking about safety.”

Though some candidates, like Villavicencio, are more open to discussing police budgets than others, none that MinnPost contacted expressly advocated defunding, or dismantling, any community’s police department. 

“If anybody wants to have a conversation about defunding, I will not have that conversation,” said Kay “Kt” Jacobs, a city council candidate in Columbia Heights. “Reallocation of funds? I will talk all day long about that.” 

Boyd Morosn, a city council candidate in Brooklyn Park, also stopped short of saying he wants to take money away from Brooklyn Park police. Instead, he says he ran to improve the relationship with the local force and all residents. 

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Woodbury City Council Member Andrea Date says that “some discussion around defunding the police is really talking about reordering priorities in a manner similar to the structure we currently have in place,” she said, referring to the city’s public safety department, which includes police, fire and other emergency services under one umbrella. In her campaign for re-election, Date said residents bring up police in the hopes of learning more about that model, which Date adds brings a more holistic sense of public safety. 

Bob Lawrence, one of Date’s challengers, said he also encounters questions about the police, though the Woodbury residents he talks to are concerned with increasing diversity on the force and not in taking any money away from police.

The increasing racial and economic diversity in many Twin Cities suburbs has also affected the discussion. Kristy Janigo, running for city council in Maple Grove, said she hears both from communities that are chiefly concerned with maintaining funding for the police force and from groups who say they fear the police and want to push for reform. 

Alfreda Daniels, running for city council in Brooklyn Center, noted that people of color now make up a majority of the suburb’s residents. And though she believes the city still needs police, one of the main reasons she’s running is to ease the mistrust certain people have with the department and police in general, since the notion of police is not synonymous with safety for some. For those people, she says, “What can we do to make the police mean something different?”