"We want law and order": Minneapolis residents sue over shrinking police resources

Who didn’t see this moment coming for the Minneapolis city council and Mayor Jacob Frey? The council’s police-abolition posturing prompted an abrupt and widespread drain of sworn officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, through retirements, disability claims, and just plain old resignations. The MPD canceled recruiting classes as well, while waiting to see whether their would be a force to expand or even maintain.

As police retreated, crime exploded. And the people who have been paying the price for the city council’s empty posturing ever since now want some accountability. A group led by a former council member has launched a lawsuit against the council and Frey, essentially for dereliction of duty:

“We are here because of people’s safety,” said Cathy Spann, a community activist. “We want law and order. We want reform. But we are in this city to say, enough is enough.”

Former Councilor Don Samuels and his wife say children can’t go outside right now as violent crimes including shootings, carjackings and murders have increased since the death of George Floyd.

“We have made the emotional appeal,” Samuels said. “We have demonstrated the statistical uptick and now this is the legal action we are exercising because it seems as if the City Council cannot hear us and doesn’t feel what we feel.”

The group of petitioners questioned city leaders about the number of police officers currently deployed across the city. They contend the MPD has fallen below the minimum thresholds required in the city’s charter because of the number of officers who have either gone out on some type of leave or quit since the deadly Memorial Day arrest.

“We simply want to have enough police on the streets to keep Minneapolis safe,” said James Dickey, an attorney.

At least Minneapolis residents have belatedly fixed their sights on the right culprits in this disaster. People in the city have blamed police issues either Donald Trump — who hasn’t had anything to do with local policing — or “systemic racism,” an interesting allegation in a city run by progressives for the past six-plus decades. Lost in all of the blame-throwing is the fact that the city council and the mayor run the MPD, as required by charter, and it hasn’t even had to deal with a federal consent decree. Whatever failings may or may not be present in MPD lie directly at the feet of the city council, which has tried to push police abolition as a distraction from that responsibility.

At issue in the lawsuit is the staffing requirement in the city charter for the Minneapolis Police Department. The city council tried to get a referendum on the ballot next month to repeal that charter requirement as a means to disband the police, but it also would have allowed the council to avoid the staffing issue. The precise formula would require roughly 750 duty-ready police officers at the present population level, but with more than 100 officers having left the service, it’s not clear whether the city is in compliance. Residents hope to use that issue to force the city to replace the missing resources and to shift back to reform rather than abolition.

The city tried to argue that the residents didn’t have standing, which enraged the plaintiffs:

“There’s some obfuscation and some disagreement as to what that number is, and we believe that part of the apathy of the city is an unwillingness to look itself … in the mirror and say, ‘What do we look like? What do we have and what do we need?’” Don Samuels said.

The Samuels say they were offended when the city attorneys told the judge the lawsuit has no standing because none of the plaintiffs have been hit by gunfire.

“To get standing we need to take a bullet, right? We’ve seen our neighbors take bullets. We know the 20 year old, we know the six month old who’s in the car when her mom gets shot up,” Sondra Samuels said.

They blame the Minneapolis City Council’s talk of defunding police for the rise in violence. Resident Jon Lundberg is one of the plaintiffs.

That’s a bad argument, politically speaking, and it’s likely to be a loser in court as well. Unfortunately, even if these residents win, it’s not going to solve the problem. Minneapolis police will still look for better environments in which to work, while its current leadership and its cowardice will disincentivize recruitment of replacement officers for years. The lawsuit is a nice start, but what Minneapolis residents need is to get rid of its current clowns on the city council and find thirteen replacements with a more serious commitment to governance. Until that happens, the meltdown will continue.