Police groups less than eager to help Minneapolis after ‘demonization’ of cops

By: - February 12, 2021 6:00 am

A law enforcement group recently warned Minnesota lawmakers that their response to future calls for help in Minneapolis may be less than robust due to Minneapolis officials’ actions. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

A coalition of Minnesota police organizations representing more than 10,000 officers has warned state lawmakers that if the Minneapolis Police Department needs help during the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin next month, other agencies may not be willing to step up.

The reason: Minneapolis politicians’ anti-police rhetoric.

In a letter to a House panel last week, the three largest statewide law enforcement associations wrote that regardless of the aid package the Legislature passes to pay for beefed-up security during the trial, “The response for mutual aid will not be as robust as the public may expect… due to the continued demonization of law enforcement officers by certain public officials at various levels of government.”

The letter’s unsubtle subtext is that the policing groups are displeased with the attacks on police coming from the Minneapolis City Council. Several members of the council have proposed dismantling the police department and starting from scratch. Minneapolis residents may vote on the proposal in November.

Mayor Jacob Frey’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Minneapolis Council Member Steve Fletcher called the letter “outrageous.”

Fletcher said the threat merely drives home the need for public safety alternatives.

“There are forms of government where police dictate policy and only provide protection to their political supporters. That form of government is not democracy and it is not how we function, so I find that pretty disturbing,” Fletcher said.

The Feb. 2 letter was sent to a House panel taking up Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to set aside $35 million to help cities — primarily Minneapolis — prepare for and respond to potential protests surrounding Chauvin’s trial. The bill would set up a reimbursement fund for agencies that assist if protests break out during the trial beginning March 8 for the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, which sparked days of protests and riots in the metro area and brought in other law enforcement agencies from around the state.

The letter raises the question of whether outside agencies would come to the aid of Minneapolis in its hour of need.

“If the bill passes and there’s money in the pot, that may be an easier pill for cities and counties to swallow,” said Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association.

He said officials in other cities are “concerned” about coming to the aid of Minneapolis, given city officials’ actions in the past year. In addition to talk of dismantling the department, the City Council diverted $7.7 million from the department to alternative public safety programs.

“This is a real difficult conversation to have, but the reality is it’s very difficult for other city councils to look at this (and say) ‘Why are we sending our resources and our personnel to Minneapolis?’” Hutton said.

The letter was signed by the leaders of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. They represent more than 300 police chiefs, 87 county sheriffs and 10,400 police officers statewide.

The state’s 87 sheriffs are all elected. Along with county commissioners, sheriffs have a decision to make, Hutton said: “If I send people, what kind of position does that put my county in?”

Hutton said the law enforcement coalition supports the governor’s proposal, which is designed to give other agencies an incentive to help if it’s needed. The bill would provide cities, counties and state law enforcement agencies with reimbursement for expenses not covered by federal or state disaster assistance programs.

Hutton said even with the money, police may be reluctant.

“It’s more than just money. These situations are not about the money. There’s other pieces that fall into it as well,” he said. “It’s no secret the city has said some things about defunding. They’ve already cut the budget. … It has said, ‘We wanna get rid of our police department. We wanna defund them.’”

Given the City Council’s allegiance to defunding activists, Hutton said, people outside Minneapolis are irked by calls for help: “Oh, we’re gonna have a major incident here so we need some more help so can you send more police?’”

Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said the coalition supports the governor’s intention, but he added: “People are playing politics with the safety and security of the people of Minneapolis.”

He cited the recent wave of resignations, retirements and disability claims at the Minneapolis Police Department: “They have not replaced the 200 officers that have left, and I think that’s where we struggle with politicians continuing to demonize law enforcement.”

Peters criticized the city for not working to get more officers in place. The city canceled two police recruiting classes, and it takes over a year to get new officers on the street, he said.

“It’s very hard for cities to participate and clean up the mess that the Minneapolis City Council and mayor have created and have known was going to be a problem since the summertime,” Peters said.

Fletcher said the threat from the policing groups only strengthens his commitment to reducing Minneapolis’ reliance on law enforcement as the only solution to public safety.

“We have a very strong commitment as government in a democracy to protect people, even when they’re saying things that infuriate us, to provide services to people equally even when we disagree with them politically,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R- East Gull Lake, has proposed using Minneapolis’ Local Government Aid money to reimburse other law enforcement agencies that help the city with the Chauvin trial. A GOP-controlled Senate panel passed a measure along those lines this week.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Minneapolis Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office didn’t hesitate to assist another police agency; they went outstate to help the small town of Buffalo deal with a tragedy after five people were shot at a clinic. The Minneapolis Police Department lent its bomb squad, K-9 unit and public information services.

Asked about that, Hutton had no comment.

After this story was published, Hutton said he did not intend to avoid the question about Buffalo. “The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has a great reputation for responding to the needs of others. Their response and the response by the Minneapolis Police Department is truly remarkable.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.