Minn. leaders split over fund to support LE during emergencies

The proposed $35 million fund would be used to reimburse out-of-jurisdiction police agencies that pitch in when an emergency arises


By Jessie Van Berkel
Star Tribune

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz said his proposed $35 million emergency law enforcement fund is critical to ensure the necessary staffing ahead of the trials of former officers charged in George Floyd's death.

"If we're not able to put this account in place it hampers plans that have been being made for these trials for months," Walz said of the so-called State Aid for Emergencies (SAFE) Account.

Minnesota State Police officers approach a crowd of protesters, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.
Minnesota State Police officers approach a crowd of protesters, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The money would be used to reimburse law enforcement agencies from around the state that pitch in when an emergency arises that is more than a local jurisdiction — like the Minneapolis Police Department — can handle.

But Republican legislators condemned the fund Walz highlighted Wednesday, which the governor had hoped to pass early next week. GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he will propose an alternative.

"We are not going to bail out [the] Minneapolis city council after they have made cuts to the public safety budget. Actions to defund the police have consequences," Gazelka, East Gull Lake, said in a statement rejecting the $35 million proposal.

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington noted the account would help any community, not just Minneapolis, when a city needs to call in assistance.

Unlike Walz's plan, Gazelka said the money for his alternative would not come from the state's general fund, which is also used to cover state expenses ranging from education to health care. A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said more detail on the GOP measure would be coming Thursday.

The state's three largest law enforcement associations initially supported Walz's SAFE Account. However, they pulled their support for a DFL version of the bill that the House public safety committee approved during a hearing Tuesday. The House measure was amended to include the development of a model policy for responding to protests. It would require all law enforcement agencies adopt a similar policy and have officers abide by it. Democrats stressed that if the state is going to provide law enforcement millions of dollars in funding, there should be accountability when they respond to protests.

"The bill's important original intent, supported by the Governor, was to provide vital public safety resources for potential future civil unrest. This politically-motivated and radical amendment puts this bill's future in serious jeopardy," Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Executive Director Brian Peters wrote in an e-mail to legislative staff.

House Republicans raised further questions during a news conference Wednesday. Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley, R- North Branch, opposed the account, saying it does not address the "demonization" of police. GOP legislators also questioned whether the funds would be distributed fairly and whether the Legislature should have a role in that, rather than having the Department of Public Safety handle reimbursements.

Walz urged legislators to work through their differences quickly. The trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is scheduled to start March 8.

"The fact of the matter is, we've got a trial in 34 days. We know that the odds are pretty good this is going to attract a large number of people. We know that if we plan accordingly we can create a safe space for peaceful First Amendment expressions while diminishing the chance for crime. I just need their help," Walz said.

Harrington said the state is assembling hundreds of members of law enforcement to prepare for Chauvin's trial.

"As of today we're still short the total number that I would like to see," Harrington said, but he said they are less than 100 officers short of his goal. "We are definitely moving in the right direction. I believe that part of why we're moving in the right direction is they know that we have offered this as a bill."

(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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