Minneapolis lawmakers distance themselves from 'defund the police' movement after $8M budget cuts

Minneapolis lawmakers distance themselves from ‘defund the police’ movement after $8M budget cuts

Two Minneapolis City Council Members are denying their involvement with the “defund the police” movement just days after the council approved a budget that shifted approximately $8 million from the police department and months after they joined colleagues in calling for the dismantlement of the Minnesota city’s department.

City Council Member Steve Fletcher rejected the idea that the council’s goal was to defund the police during a recent interview with local news station KSTP-TV – and instead said the budget cuts came as a result of the need to fund other programs.

“‘Defund’ is not the framework the council has ever chosen,” Fletcher said during the interview that aired this week. He was seated next to Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who agreed.

Fletcher and Cunningham were two of the nine city council members who attended an event in June where they stood behind a sign that stated “defund police” and said they would dismantle the police department, just weeks after the May 25 death of George Floyd, according to the report.

“I think that it’s important to name that dismantle does not mean dismantle into nothing, it means dismantling what we currently have to build something new,” Cunningham told the station.

Fletcher said the Minneapolis public was calling on elected officials “to do something really hard – to transform a system that’s existed more than a hundred years.”

“The thing that we care about is, what’s the system we’re designing that’s better?” Fletcher continued. “And yes, if we design a better system that’s going to mean investing less in traditional armed law enforcement because we’re relying less on that.”

Last week, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a budget that will shift about $8 million from the police department toward violence prevention and mental health programs. The policing budget was originally approximately $179 million.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after a White Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite his numerous shouts that he couldn’t breathe. His death prompted demonstrations nationwide – and globally – protesting police brutality and systemic racism.

It prompted promises from city council members who said they would disband the Minneapolis Police Department and vowed to end policing as the city currently knows it.

At the June event, council member Jeremiah Ellison promised that the council would “dismantle” the department.

“It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” Lisa Bender, the council president, said. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”

Bender went on to say she and the eight other council members that joined the rally are committed to ending the city’s relationship with the police force and “to end policing as we know it and recreate systems that actually keep us safe.”

But during his recent interview, Fletcher said the council’s goal was not “to maximize how much money came out of the department.”

“If we’re going to look at how we fund different programs, it would be very hard to do that without taking that money from the Minneapolis Police Department,” he said. “There’s very little elsewhere in the city where it feels like there’s money to be taken.”

He said the money that was cut from the police department “didn’t cut a single officer, it didn’t cut a single tangible thing on the street.”

“What it cut was a massive increase in overtime that they had proposed and that felt like bloat in the budget,” Fletcher said.

Violent crimes have surged in the city, with 5,237 violent crimes reported so far this year compared to the 4,169 logged during the same period in 2019, statistics show. There have been 78 people murdered year-to-date, compared to the 45 murders last year.

“I anticipate them needing to respond to crime. I don’t necessarily think overtime is the tool we should be using for that,” Fletcher said. When asked what tools he thought should be used, he added: “I would argue taking work off their plate so they can focus their law enforcement activity on the crimes that we actually need them focused on.”

Mayor Jacob Frey had threatened to veto the entire budget if the council went forward with its original plan to cap police staffing. City Council members had initially approved a proposal to cut the city’s authorized police force to 750 officers, down from the current 888, beginning in 2022. But they changed course after the mayor called the move “irresponsible.”

Just last month, the council narrowly approved nearly $500,000 in additional funds for MPD to bring in personnel from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department and Metropolitan Council/Metro Transit Police. The approval came despite a reported history of disagreements between police and city officials over whether doing so would be an appropriate use of the money.

“Resources are hemorrhaging. Our city is bleeding at this moment. I’m trying to do all I can to stop that bleeding,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at the time.