The Minneapolis City Council briefly considered diverting money from police to citizen patrols, with the council’s public safety chairwoman suggesting an armed group as one that could potentially benefit.
During a budget meeting last week, Council Member Alondra Cano proposed cutting $500,000 from the Minneapolis Police Department for the citizen groups.
She described it as an effort to “respond to the hundreds of people who have formed their own community safety patrol systems to keep their blocks and their neighborhoods safe in this time of deep transition.”
She and nine of her colleagues voted in favor of adding the provision to the 2020 budget. On Wednesday, after residents and reporters contacted city officials seeking details about the proposal, the council walked it back.
The change reveals how the City Council is struggling to come up with alternatives to the Minneapolis Police Department, even as a majority has vowed to end it. Council members and city staffers have, at times, found themselves unclear about what various proposals mean, even after they have voted on them.
“We need transparency from the council now more than ever, especially when we’re moving really quickly like this,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano, chairwoman of the budget committee, who isn’t one of the council members who want to end the police. “Vague cuts that get hammered out behind closed doors instead of in the open where people can hold you accountable is dangerous. If my colleagues want to reduce the police force, we should take a vote on that.”
While they are tasked with trying to find ways to cut money from their $1.6 billion budget to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, many council members are responding to conflicting demands from the public about overhauling the city’s approach to public safety after George Floyd’s death.
During a roughly five-hour meeting Wednesday, some residents urged the council to fulfill its promise to end the police. Many of them repeated a call, pushed by activist groups, to cut $45 million from the Police Department’s roughly $184 million budget.
“As I have conversations with those in my community, there is a deep-seated distrust of this council regarding its willingness to follow through with protecting Black lives and our communities in general,” said Dylan Cheever, one of about 60 people who called in to offer public comment Wednesday. “The proposed budget will only further that distrust, especially after so many of you committed to much larger actions.”
Others asked the council to slow down and provide more details before pushing through significant changes.
“As we move forward in this process, I urge and beg the City Council to have a plan, to establish a strategy,” said Adam Barrett, who also called into the meeting. “Right now, myself and people like me can’t get behind $600,000 or $45 million in cuts because there is no strategy and there is no plan in place. We don’t know what will replace the Police Department and how much it will cost.”
When Mayor Jacob Frey unveiled his plan for trimming from the budget earlier this month, he said he hoped to save larger conversations about the future of public safety for the 2021 budget talks, which kick off next month.
Last Friday, council members got their first chance to counter. That’s when Cano introduced her proposal “to provide training, technical assistance, supplies and implementation of paid community safety patrols” of “crime hot-spots and homeless encampments throughout the city.”
Cano said she knew of a group that operated in south Minneapolis and noted “we’ve heard a lot of amazing things about the Freedom Riders on the North Side.”
Her office confirmed this week that is meant to be a reference to the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, who recently switched their name from the Minnesota Freedom Riders. A representative for the group did not return a message this week.
In a video with alternative media site Unicorn Riot, some members of the group described their work as an effort to provide protection to the community during marches, protests and other similar scenarios.
Pictures of the group posted on social media show some carrying rifles.
Last Friday, City Council members voted to add funding for the patrols to the 2020 budget proposal, except for Palmisano and Lisa Goodman.
At Wednesday’s public meeting, after questions from Goodman and others about how such patrols would work, council members deleted the community patrols from the budget proposal.
Now the council wants to take $1.1 million from the Police Department budget to support a “Cure Violence” program.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said the program uses “interrupters” to try to stop cycles of violence.
“We’re asking for street outreach with community-based folks who have credibility with the folks who have the guns, are shooting the guns, and these folks have the rare skills and the credibility to be able to influence these folks to put the guns down and stop the shooting,” Cunningham said. “That is an incredibly rare skill that we do not value enough as a city.”
Cunningham noted that these are different from citizen patrols and the “interrupters” won’t be armed while they’re working.
“There’s a space for that, the Freedom Fighters. I’m grateful for their work and their leadership in the community,” Cunningham said. “They have a role, but what we’re talking about here is an evidence-based model that folks are going out and de-escalating. They’re mediating conflicts.”
Eleven council members voted to replace the patrols with that new program in the budget. Council Member Kevin Reich did not vote on the issue.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the final budget Friday.