Lawsuit Seeks to Preserve Minneapolis Police Department

Defunding and abolishing police departments is an absurd idea that nevertheless has gained currency in some extremely liberal cities. One of those is Minneapolis, whose City Council has actually voted to put defunding its own police department on the ballot in November. This is because the Minneapolis City Charter includes a requirement that the city maintain a police department of a specified size. Happily, an obscure group called the Minneapolis Charter Commission has voted to study the issue further rather than putting it on the ballot.

In the meantime, however, the City Council has been de facto shrinking the police department to the point where it is now smaller than the legally required minimum. A group of Minneapolis residents, all or mostly black, are now suing the Mayor and City Council to force them to comply with the City Charter. They are represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center, a public interest law firm on whose board I serve.

This is the press release that the UMLC published yesterday:

Eight residents and community leaders in Minneapolis, represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center, filed a lawsuit Monday to require the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Frey take action to secure the safety of citizens amid an exodus of MPD officers.

The petition alleges Minneapolis’s leaders have violated their duties to fund, employ and manage a police force as required by the City Charter. Rather than work to improve public safety, the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey are making the city a more dangerous place through defunding, imposing a hiring freeze, cancelling training, and public disparagement of the MPD, causing police officers to retire, quit, take medical leave and make disability claims in unprecedented numbers without replacements. This has led to fewer officers employed than required by the City Charter – accomplishing a stated goal of a self-described “veto-proof majority” of the City Council, but without receiving the required vote of Minneapolis residents.

Cathy Spann, one of the plaintiffs who initiated this legal action, said: “The safety of our families and community require an adequately staffed and deployed police force. The actions of the City Council and Mayor Frey in driving out unprecedented numbers of Minneapolis police officers, and then cancelling all hiring of replacements, endangers our community, our residents and our children. We demand the City Council and Mayor comply with the Charter and, rather than ‘defund the police,’ take all necessary steps to increase the number of police in active service to the minimum of 743 officers required by the City Charter.”

The petition points out that at the beginning of 2020, Minneapolis employed and deployed a police force of approximately 825 licensed officers. However, through the end of July, at least 80 officers have retired or quit, up dramatically from the annual average of 45. This attrition is continuing, as Mayor Frey stated in his 2021 Budget Address on August 14 that he expects 100 police officers to retire from the force by year-end. No replacement officers are planned to be hired, since Mayor Frey also stated those eliminated positions would be “included in our hiring freeze,” and all Minneapolis’ police training academies have been canceled for the remainder of 2020.

Furthermore, due to the hostile working conditions created by Mayor Frey and the City Council, by the end of July more than 200 officers had applied for disability—about 20% of the entire force. According to a city spokesperson, on July 17 a total of 111 employed officers were on some type of medical leave, including 40 PTSD claims filed just since May 26. According to the Star Tribune, the city could lose the services of as many as one-third of its employed officers by year-end due to disability and medical leave alone.

As a result, the petition concludes, the current number employed in active duty on the MPD is 634 or fewer, and by year-end the number will sink to 500 or even lower, both numbers far below the required 743.

Howard Root, Chair of the Upper Midwest Law Center, stated: “While the City Council claims that the Charter-required minimum number of armed police is not required for public safety, when it comes to their own safety, their actions stink of hypocrisy. Our legal petition points out that the City has paid $152,400 for armed protective agents for three City Council members—a private armed security force so the Council members do not need to rely on the disintegrating Minneapolis police force for their own protection. So at the same time the City Council has determined that the citizens require less police protection, they have hired their own special private police force to provide added security for themselves at taxpayer expense.”

Doug Seaton, Esq., President of the Upper Midwest Law Center, added: “The facts in our petition are unambiguous, and the City Charter requirement is clear. We expect the court will act to require the City to conform to the Charter and increase police hiring to meet the Charter’s legal requirements. Otherwise, the Charter provision is meaningless. We intend to request immediate judicial intervention to remedy this travesty.”

The legal action was filed in Hennepin County State District Court on Monday, August 17, 2020 as a mandamus action, which asks the court to order the Mayor and City Council to comply with the City Charter by taking all necessary steps to hire, train, fund and deploy a minimum of 743 licensed peace officers.

The legal pleadings are here.

A local television news station did a great report on the lawsuit and the violent crime that is besetting Minneapolis, which you can see here. And if you would like to support the work of the Upper Midwest Law Center, you can donate here.

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