Two members of the Minneapolis City Council who led the push to defund the city’s police department gave an interview yesterday in which they tried to backtrack on “defund the police” language while maintaining that they still want to “dismantle” the force. But council members Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham warned that their new public safety vision was still threatened by “rank and file” officers who haven’t embraced the same goals.

“‘Defund’ is not the framework the council has ever chosen,” Fletcher said, as Cunningham audibly agreed, during a wide-ranging interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “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.”…

“Folks will be able to see that pretty quickly here the work that has already been underway now for two years,” he said. “We really do have to co-create the new system of public safety.”

But they believe for that to happen, the Minneapolis Police Department would no longer exist in its current form. Both Fletcher and Cunningham said they still stand by their statements to dismantle the department.

“I think the goal is to transform public safety and I think it remains to be seen whether this department is going to come along with us on that,” Fletcher said. “We have not seen an acknowledgment of a problem from the rank and file force and I do have concerns about whether they’re going to block the culture change that the mayor and chief are calling for.”

Contrary to this attempt to distance themselves from the unpopular “defund the police” slogan, these council members did commit to defunding and dismantling the police force but those efforts fell apart for two reasons. First, they didn’t have a plan for replacing what they wanted to tear down and second the city has seen a crime wave since this summer which makes the idea of cutting the police budget a harder sell.

Last month, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo begged the council for more resources to hire outside officers to deal with the steep rise in crime. These same councilmembers refused to vote for the short term funds and then announced a new plan to defund the police by another $8 million. As you’ll see in the interview below, when asked if the city’s police chief isn’t the local expert on fighting crime, Councilmember Cunningham replied, “Whoever is running the police department is not the only expert in public safety.” That’s true in the broadest sense but I don’t see any evidence that these two councilmembers are experts.

Initially their goal with the $8 million in additional cuts was to reduce the number of officers by making the recent decline in staffing due to resignations and retirements permanent. The city is supposed to have 888 officers but currently is down to about 750. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey rejected the idea of cutting the staffing level permanently and threatened to veto the budget unless it was removed. The budget cut ultimately passed without the staffing reduction. Meanwhile, the crime wave persists with murders up 50% this year.

Here’s the interview with KSTP 5. As you’ll see, councilmember Fletcher says the worst that can happen is that the city goes back to the old plan but if crime remains high it will create a lot of new victims. Going back to the old plan later on won’t help the people who’ve been shot or killed in the interim. Councilmember Cunningham is right about one thing thought. Folks are going to have to see with their own eyes that this works.