Who me? Minneapolis council members backtrack from ‘defund police’ movement after $8M budget cut

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Two members of the Minneapolis City Council who supported a “defund the police” effort over the summer are now trying to distance themselves from the movement following the passage of an $8 million cut to the police department’s budget.

In an interview with local news outlet KSTP-TV, Council Member Steve Fletcher pushed back on the suggestion that the council’s objective was to defund the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of the George Floyd incident in May.

Rather, he told the outlet that the budget cuts are part of a need to put money into other city programs.

“’Defund’ is not the framework the council has ever chosen,” Fletcher said in an interview this week while sitting next to Councilman Phillipe Cunningham, who agreed with the statement.

“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,” he added.

But, as KSTP reported, Fletcher and Cunningham gathered on stage with seven other council members in a crowded Powderhorn Park behind a banner that read, “Defund Police.”

Initially, the two city lawmakers along with outgoing Council President Lisa Bender proposed far larger cuts to MPD in the 2021 budget, which included eliminating 183 sworn officer slots, even as crime has spiked in the city. The proposal was scaled back after Mayor Jacob Frey threatened to veto the entire budget.

“I think that it’s important to name that dismantle does not mean dismantle into nothing, it means dismantling what we currently have to build something new,” Cunningham told KSTP.

Fletcher added that the public has been calling on elected leaders “to do something really hard – to transform a system that’s existed more than a hundred years.”

“The thing that we care about is, what’s the system we’re designing that’s better?” Fletcher added. “And yes, if we design a better system that’s going to mean investing less in traditional armed law enforcement because we’re relying less on that.”

The original police budget was roughly $179 million in a city of about 437,000.

Fletcher added that the cut of $8 million “didn’t cut a single officer, it didn’t cut a single tangible thing on the street.”

“What it cut was a massive increase in overtime that they had proposed and that felt like bloat in the budget,” he said.

At a meeting billed as a study session on police reform in September, newly-elected Council Member Jamal Osman said people were concerned about rising crime.

“Residents are asking, ‘Where are the police’?” Osman said. “That is the only public safety option they have at the moment. MPD. They rely on MPD. And they are saying they are nowhere to be seen.”

According to local reports, violent crime is up in the city over 2019, including assaults, robberies, and homicides. More people were killed in Minneapolis during the first nine months of this year than in all of last year.

In addition, property crimes including burglaries and vehicular theft are up, while acts of arson have risen 55 percent.

“I anticipate them needing to respond to crime. I don’t necessarily think overtime is the tool we should be using for that,” Fletcher said.

When he was asked about what he believes could be used to mitigate crime, he said:  “I would argue taking work off their plate so they can focus their law enforcement activity on the crimes that we actually need them focused on.”

Earlier, the council shifted $1 million from the MPD budget to hire “violence interrupters” who are supposed to intervene somehow to diffuse potentially violent acts.

“If we have these systems in place we are getting ahead of the violence,” Cunningham said at the time.

“That’s why I’ve advocated so strongly for the violence interrupters, because if they are interrupting the violence before the guns are being fired, then the MPD doesn’t have to respond to that violence,” he added.

Jon Dougherty

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