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How ‘defund,’ local government aid and the Buffalo shooting have become part of the Legislature’s debate over Chauvin trial security

A bill advancing through the Minnesota Senate aims to put Minneapolis on the hook for any law enforcement help it receives from around the state during the March trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

Minnesota National Guard
Soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard’s Pine City-based B Troop, 1-94th Cavalry Squadron are shown on Jan. 14 training to provide support for the inauguration of Joe Biden. Gov. Tim Walz and his Department of Public Safety are planning to deploy National Guard troops to Minneapolis for the Chauvin trial.
Minnesota National Guard/Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh/Handout via REUTERS

Republican Senators advanced a bill through two committees on Wednesday and Thursday that aims to make the city of Minneapolis pay for law enforcement help from around the state during the March trial of Derek Chauvin — the former police officer who faces second-degree murder charges in the killing of George Floyd.

Gov. Tim Walz wants the state to fund an extensive police presence that officials hope will prevent crime and arson, though many in the GOP said it was unfair to make taxpayers across Minnesota pay to backstop a city that has cut its police budget and is short hundreds of officers.

A hearing on the Republican legislation Wednesday, however, revolved as much around another city and another incident: the mass shooting in Buffalo. When a gunman killed one person and injured four others at a health clinic in the small city Tuesday, police from around the Twin Cities metro area sent officers and other staff to help out.

The GOP argued the law enforcement response in Buffalo was not comparable to security for the Chauvin trial, but it galvanized Democrats and other defenders of the Walz plan who say Minneapolis helps out in times of need without expectation of payment from a city in crisis.

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“They didn’t haggle over price or terms,” said Minneapolis Regional Chamber President Jonathan Weinhagen about the Buffalo mutual aid. “They just showed up.”

Mutual aid ‘mercenaries’?

Walz and his Department of Public Safety are planning to deploy National Guard troops and a bevy of police to Minneapolis with a goal of limiting potential problems before they snowball. That strategy relies on hundreds of cops from around Minnesota, since the guard is required to be accompanied by local police when responding to civil unrest. But at least some of those local departments want a promise of reimbursement if their officers are gone for weeks.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Gov. Tim Walz
Walz’s solution was a $35 million reserve, paid for by the state’s general fund. The Republican-led Senate, however, balked at the idea, saying Minneapolis should be paying for its own help, arguing the city wouldn’t need as big of a response if it had heeded requests from Chief Medaria Arradondo for more officers and had not cut money from the police budget. (The Minneapolis City Council cut $8 million from the police department in December as the city faced a budget crunch tied to the  COVID-19 pandemic.)

The GOP also said some police departments expected money for responding to the riots in May after Floyd was killed and didn’t get paid back by Minneapolis.

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, if a city promised to pay another police department for helping them but failed to do so, that money would be taken from the city’s share of local government aid to resolve the bill. LGA helps cities around the state pay for basic government functions. 

The plan, which is an effort to make Minneapolis pay the cost of outside law enforcement help from local police departments during the Chauvin trial, wouldn’t take money from the general fund, which is used for government services like K-12 education. 

State Sen. Bill Weber
State Sen. Bill Weber
“One of those basic services (of LGA) is protection,” Weber said during the hearing. 

The bill passed the Senate Subcommittee on Property Taxes on a 3-2 party-line vote Wednesday and was approved by the full Taxes committee by a voice vote Thursday morning. It now heads to the Senate floor, though top lawmakers are expected to negotiate over a potential final compromise behind closed doors.

Sen. Matt Klein, a DFLer from Mendota Heights who voted against the measure in the subcommittee, said at the hearing that Weber’s bill would create a “mercenary” system in place of mutual aid agreements that “rely historically on trust, brotherhood and sisterhood and the idea of ‘One Minnesota.’”

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DPS Commissioner John Harrington told lawmakers Wednesday that among the agencies to respond to the Buffalo shooting were Minneapolis, which sent a bomb squad, Hennepin County, the State Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the University of Minnesota — which sent bomb-sniffing dogs. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said the department sent 14 staff to Buffalo and doesn’t expect Minneapolis will send a bill.

“In my 40 years I’ve never seen that happen, where the city of Minneapolis or the city of St. Paul has ever asked for reimbursement for responding under mutual aid,” Harrington said, when asked by Klein if Minneapolis should bank on repayment from Buffalo for the help. 

Commissioner John Harrington
Commissioner John Harrington
Harrington then said it wouldn’t be appropriate or fair for a city to expect a share of local government aid from a city it had helped either, especially one, “that has had a tragedy in their midst.” 

His main objection, however, was that police department leaders who think calling in mutual aid could lead to a budget cut later for their department might hesitate to call in proper help when it’s needed.

State Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said her city has specialized assets smaller governments don’t because of its bigger budget, yet it willingly sends them around during disasters as “good Samaritans.”

“It is a value of Minnesotans that we stick up for one another when there’s trouble,”  she said. “When I think about the approach of this bill it feels like we’re going to wait until the trouble has happened and then we’re going to balance our account.”

GOP says Minneapolis should get a mutual aid response — but pay for it 

Republicans noted the police response in Buffalo was an entirely different situation than the huge law enforcement presence planned in Minneapolis for the Chauvin trial. Weber said it’s normal for law enforcement to help other governments in short-term emergencies without reimbursement, but the potential that Minneapolis and the state need weeks of help can drain time and money away from a responding department.

To that point, Harrington said during the 2008 Republican National Convention, the federal government paid for mutual aid help for law enforcement. The Super Bowl committee paid for cops in Minneapolis in 2018. So Harrington said it’s reasonable to expect repayment for the Chauvin trial in particular — that’s why they proposed the $35 million fund.

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Weber said the Legislature will pay for costs borne by the patrol, national guard and other state police. And he said their bill accomplishes the same goal as Walz’s plan in assuring reimbursement for mutual aid from local police departments around the state. But it’s about who should pay those mutual aid costs. Unlike Buffalo, Minneapolis could have taken steps to prevent issues with a larger police force, Weber said.

“I’m not sure this bill would have even been here today if it hadn’t been for the fact that Minneapolis defunded their police,” Weber said. “Quite frankly for them to have done that and then for the governor to ask for money to ensure that we have a proper response come potential problems around the trial, to me, I find that unreasonable, I find that objectionable. 

“And quite frankly they’re receiving an amount of local government aid for which they are to provide that protection. Some may say, ‘Well that’s their right to use those monies as they wish,’ and maybe that’s right. But then, at the end of the day, then to come around and ask everyone else to help pay for the law enforcement that should be paid by them, I find that somewhat unreal.”

Weber’s bill does not require local governments who send police help to ask for reimbursement.

The $8 million cut from MPD was part of a $179 million department budget. The city did not reduce the number of officers it can have on the force, but the department says it’s down roughly 200 officers compared to a year ago because of departures and leave for issues like PTSD.

Minneapolis plans to boost the city’s police numbers back to a target level of 888. But Arradondo noted to lawmakers that he asked for 400 new officers in 2019 but received 14. 

MPD has faced intense backlash and calls for a new public safety system over the Floyd killing, union leaders resisting reform and a history of disproportionate force against people of color as well as outsized arrests and traffic stops. Some critics of the department say more cops will only exacerbate these issues.

Arradondo told lawmakers keeping staff has been a challenge and said MPD has become a “one-dimensional department” that can respond if someone needs a squad car but doesn’t have enough resources to investigate at the level he’d like. The city has had to rely on mutual aid, such as in August, when looting broke out on Nicollet Mall in the aftermath of a man taking his own life while police pursued him. 

Arradondo said Minneapolis might better respond without mutual aid help if they had more money for cops. “I’m going to absolutely continue to rely upon other agencies quite frankly for assistance until I feel that my police department has the adequate number it needs to continue to serve our community,” he said.

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The Republican bill was passed by voice vote Thursday, meaning individual votes were not recorded. But Klein, the DFL Senator, and Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said they would approve the Republican bill in the Taxes committee because, while they had reservations, it is an attempt to help prepare for security at the Chauvin trial. Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Tom Bakk, an Independent from Cook, said they opposed the measure. All GOP committee members appeared to vote for the bill.