The U.S. Department of Justice has offered to partner with the Minneapolis Police Department as part of a new nationwide effort to provide extra support for police, with emphasis on reducing excessive force, building community safety and retaining staffing.
Some City Council members say they were surprised to learn of the proposal at the same time as the general public, and they questioned whether "doubling down" on policing is the right step in this pivotal moment for the future of the public safety system.
Justice officials from Washington, D.C., announced the creation of the Law Enforcement Training and Technical Assistance Response Center at a Tuesday news conference in downtown Minneapolis, responding to a summer of surging violent crime throughout the city and months of civil unrest that began with the death of George Floyd in police custody.
"Mr. Floyd's death provoked outrage, both here locally and nationally, and that outrage remains. We're here today to help this city and to help our nation heal," said Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo, also appearing at the news conference, said he's "excited and encouraged" about the offer, though the city has not committed to it.
"We have been, and I have been, working on our plans to create a new MPD," Arradondo said. "And this would be a key component to that."
Council members surprised
The City Council would likely need to approve the contract, but Council Member Steve Fletcher, vice chairman of the committee on public safety, said he knew nothing about it until Tuesday, and he's not clear how the city even applied without council approval.
Fletcher led the council's nixing of a $1.3 million federal policing grant earlier this year that would have funded more officer positions, saying it had "significant strings attached."
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who represents a large portion of north Minneapolis, said he spoke to a Department of Justice representative earlier this year about a potential partnership, but he never received a follow-up call with details.
"I was a little shocked a couple of months later to wake up and realize there's a news conference," he said.
Ellison also questioned whether the offer was sincere or a publicity stunt meant to bolster President Donald Trump in the last two weeks before the election. Trump has been a vocal critic of how Minneapolis has handled unrest this year. "If it was real … then the council would be engaged," Ellison said.
The offer, part of an initial investment of $3 million in grants, would include a coordinator to help support the chief, as well as technical assistance and training to implement use-of-force policies and resources to help with recruitment, retention and officer safety and health, said Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan.
The program would also focus on training Minneapolis officers on how to effectively respond to people suffering from mental health or drug abuse issues or impairment, said Dreiband.
In June, following protests and riots after Floyd's death, a majority of City Council members declared that years of slow reform had failed, and they committed to "begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department and creating a new, transformative model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis."
After failing to put the question to voters on a ballot initiative, the council's path forward is less clear.
At the same time, a surge in violent crime this summer has buoyed calls for more robust policing. Since January, the city has recorded 68 homicides, the highest count since 1996.
Arradondo said more than 400 people in the city have been shot this year, which he called "absolutely unconscionable."
"We cannot do this work alone," he said."
Arradondo estimated the department is down 130 officers from the same time last year, many leaving after Floyd's death, and he expects to lose more by end of the year.
"I'm right now dealing with very diminished resources," Arradondo said. "Sadly, we are becoming one-dimensional."
'More good police'
Minnesota U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said she and Arradondo have been talking to community leaders in recent months who say the city needs "more good police."
"We've met with faith leaders who want good police officers because they grieve every time they bury yet another man cut short of his life," said MacDonald.
"We've met with high school principals from north Minneapolis who want good police officers because they too grieve when their students don't return to school because they've been the victim of gun violence."
Ellison agreed that the city needs to bring the violence under control, and he said constituents are looking to the government for ways to keep them safe.
But he is skeptical that investing more in the same police model is the answer.
Ellison said he planned to take a close look at the partnership once it's made available to the council.
Arradondo said he strives to remain apolitical in his role as chief. "At the end of the day, if there are resources I know will help instill crime-preventive tools … I'm obligated to look into that," he said.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036