Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin goes on trial March 8 for the killing of George Floyd, who died with Chauvin's knee pressed against his neck. The riots, destruction and protests that erupted in the wake of the incident were seen around the world, making Minneapolis a flash point for the tensions between police and communities of color.
City and state officials are attempting to prepare for the possibility of further unrest during Chauvin's trial. They rightly want to avoid a repeat of the delays in deploying law enforcement and military that resulted in damage that has yet to be fully repaired.
A state plan to create a $35 million emergency fund for jurisdictions to draw on in a time of public safety emergencies appears prudent. It would guarantee that other law enforcement agencies, including smaller police departments, could render whatever assistance is needed with the knowledge that their costs would be reimbursed.
Republicans in the Legislature have raised concerns that the money would be a "bailout" for Minneapolis, allowing the city to escape its obligation to maintain needed law enforcement levels. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has more explicitly said that Minneapolis should be made to cover the expenses and that he is not worried about having adequate security for the trial.
That is at odds with an appeal Senate Republicans made to Gov. Tim Walz in December, when they called the request for funds to prepare for security "a matter of the utmost importance" and urged Walz's support for $7.6 million to help fund overtime needed to offset the anticipated need for increased security. In that letter, Gazelka and others wrote that the need for funds was urgent, "to prevent a recurrence of the violence we experienced last summer."
There can be little valid debate about the need to plan for every contingency. On Friday Walz signed an executive order to activate the National Guard during the trial. And Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington has said he is coordinating with the FBI, the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force and more than 200 chief law enforcement officers across Minnesota.
The scale of such an operation cannot fall to any one city's tax base. If a tornado levels a small town in our state, we don't tell them they're on their own, tough luck. We don't take it out of the city's state aid. We pitch in to help as one state, secure in the knowledge that doing so helps us all.
Leaders can haggle over the amount needed. But they should dispense with the rhetoric, the desire to punish on the Republican side and, similarly, attempts on the DFL side to attach police reforms to the fund. They can require that Minneapolis to do its share and honor Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo's request that the City Council release $6.4 million to hire more officers for a force that has dropped to dangerously skimpy levels.
A Friday Star Tribune story reported that Minneapolis, a city of more than 400,000, now is averaging 448 patrol officers on a total force of just 662. That's down from pre-Floyd levels in 2019 of 552 and 851, respectively.
What leaders must not do is trivialize or politicize the very real need to prepare for a potential emergency that could again jeopardize people, property and businesses in the city that is the economic engine for this state.
Republican concerns that city officials are too caught up in debates over how to police to give proper attention to the number of police are not without merit. The Minneapolis City Council — and indeed the state — should continue work toward reforms that address longstanding issues of racial inequity and disproportionate force.
But there is an urgent situation before us that demands action. The eyes of the nation and world soon will again be fixed on Minneapolis. Surely leaders at all levels and in both parties can find common purpose in ensuring that proper precautions are taken and needed funds are allocated. That includes not waiting until the last possible minute, creating uncertainty and fear in residents and businesses alike.