The Minneapolis city council wants to dismantle its police force. It may not get the chance, however, as the police officers themselves may accomplish it first. The city has received an overwhelming number of disability claims from law enforcement that might sideline a quarter of its police force.
The curve isn’t flattening, either, according to an attorney handling the claims:
The continued surge of Minneapolis police officers seeking disability benefits after the George Floyd unrest is heightening concerns of a police staffing shortage amid a wave of violent crime.
Ron Meuser Jr., the lawyer handling the claims, said his office met with an additional 43 Minneapolis cops this week who have retained him. That’s in addition to the estimated 150 officers who Meuser said at a July 10 news conference had retained him. And it brings the total closer to 200 now, out of a sworn force of about 850.
Meuser said most of the officers starting the disability paperwork leave their jobs fairly quickly on a medical leave. The disability claims process can take up to six months.
He said his office has “dozens and dozens” of more appointments with officers scheduled for next week. “The curve has not flattened,” Meuser said. “We are signing up a staggering number of officers every day right now.”
That will put the city council in a rather difficult position. Even though they want to disband the police department, the city charter requires them to field their own police force. They want a referendum to pass an amendment to repeal that part of the charter, but until then, the charter requires not just the funding of the police department but specific minimum staffing levels as well. They must have “a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident”; with a population of 425,000 (as of 2018), that requires the city to have at least 724 “employees.” If they’re down to 650, they’re already in technical violation of their city charter.
There’s another problem here, too, which is one of momentum. If the police force thins out this rapidly, other officers will start looking for work elsewhere, too. At some point, the desire to serve the community will pale in respect to the danger of having no backup on ever-more-dangerous streets. Those officers might not go through a disability process — they will simply walk away, either to join other law enforcement agencies or to do something else. That process might already be accelerating, but if it hasn’t happened yet, it almost certainly will, and soon.
The state legislature may try to head that off with a package of reforms that stop short of defunding. The special session called in part to deal with this crisis (also with bond issues) reached some sort of agreement around midday:
The Republican leader of the Minnesota Senate said he’s struck a “tentative” agreement with Democrats who control the House on a series of police accountability proposals, setting a deadline of midnight on Monday to pass any deals and adjourn a special session of the Legislature.
A package of changes to policing in the state became a top priority for lawmakers after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The agreement includes a ban on the use of chokeholds and warrior-style training for officers, as well as changes in police arbitration and the creation of a new advisory council within a state officer licensing and standards board, said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
That might leave room for the Minneapolis city council to save face and withdraw its charter change. Black leaders and groups in the city have become increasing vocal in their opposition to the idea, especially in high-crime neighborhoods that want more police, albeit with better accountability. It also might help them avoid a very dicey fight over the status of the popular chief of police, the first black chief in the city’s history:
Although Eighth Ward Council Member Andrea Jenkins and seven of her colleagues pledged last month to replace the city’s police force with a “transformative” public safety system, they admitted they didn’t have “all the answers about what a police-free future looks like.”
Among the lingering questions is the fate of Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief. On a City Council wracked by Floyd’s death at the hands of police, views differ about what the future may bring.
“In my vision, yes, I see Chief Arradondo as part of a public safety continuum in the city of Minneapolis,” said Jenkins, the council vice president. “One of the things that people continue to talk about is that we need police officers that are from the community. Well, our police chief is from the community and understands the realities of Black life, the racism that exists in police culture and in the broader society.”
But some of her colleagues could go a different route. They say the chief’s fate will depend on a proposed charter amendment that eliminates the requirement to maintain a police force. If the amendment passes, some council members said they could envision a new department that may not include officers and could be led by someone without a law enforcement background.
This is just insane. Putting someone without any law enforcement experience in charge of law enforcement is akin to appointing a non-lawyer to the Supreme Court. Or perhaps even better, asking someone without any football experience except as a fan to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. The difference between these two analogies and the reality of what the Minneapolis city council proposes is that the reality of their proposal will get more people killed, especially the social workers they think can replace police officers.
Let’s hope that the state legislature’s tentative agreement pre-empts this idiotic proposal from going forward. The city’s voters are likely to give it a chance before taking the incredibly reckless step of accepting the extreme nihilism of their city council. And hopefully, those same voters will realize just how much elections matter and quit electing clowns to public office.