Minneapolis down 200 officers while Walz, GOP argue over Chauvin trial security costs

Minnesota Senate Republicans are proposing to cut Minneapolis's funding to repay cities that send police into the city to deal with disorder, accusing the city of failing to have a large enough police force.

The proposal is the Senate GOP's answer to Gov. Tim Walz, who is pushing a $35 million security fund that would cover Minneapolis's costs of having other cities provide police help during the March trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. Republicans consider Walz's fund a "Minneapolis bailout" and are blocking it.

"Minneapolis needs to pay their bills. There's no excuse for not doing that," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said at a news conference.

As the trial nears, Minneapolis Police staffing is incredibly thin. At least 139 officers were on leave in January, and others have already left the department since the 2020 riots that followed Floyd's death. The city only has 640 available officers now, down about 200 from two years ago, Mayor Jacob Frey said in a Facebook post asking City Council members to free up money for additional police recruits.

Minneapolis has about $137,000 in unpaid bills for mutual aid from the summer 2020 rioting, a Gazelka spokeswoman said.

Frey disputed the allegation in a series of tweets Thursday afternoon. In one, he said the city had only received one finalized invoice for a few thousand dollars. In another, he said 99 percent of agencies that provided police help never sent a bill.

"Collaboration has always been a foundational principle of law enforcement in Minnesota," Frey said. "Jurisdictions don’t typically charge for mutual aid rendered in moments of crisis – that would defeat the very purpose of mutual aid pacts."

Minutes before the GOP news conference, Walz's spokesman released a December letter from Senate Republicans asking the Democratic governor to consider a $7.6 million funding request from Minneapolis Police to prevent future rioting. The spokesman accused the GOP of flip-flopping over the issue of Minneapolis security.

Gazelka did not dispute sending the letter but did not directly answer why he had changed his mind about MPD assistance now.

The Senate GOP bill would lower Minneapolis's local government aid funding to repay other municipalities for providing police help. Walz's $35 million special fund would allow Minneapolis to use state money to repay agencies. 

The governor has asked lawmakers to pass his proposal by Feb. 8, one month before the scheduled March 8 start of Chauvin's trial. Three other ex-cops charged in Floyd's death are scheduled to stand trial in August.

The governor said failure to pass the $35 million fund would "hamper" security plans around the Chauvin trial. But his public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said he was "very confident" that the state would hit its target of hundreds of outside officers well before the trial begins.

"At one point we were looking to try and fill hundreds and hundreds of cops. Last week we were at under 100 cops that we were still trying to fill the vacancies," Harrington told reporters on Wednesday.

It's not clear whether Minneapolis will even make the aid request for Chauvin's trial. On Wednesday, Harrington said the state was heavily involved in setting up a unified command structure, meaning the state could be in charge of repaying cities that provide police help. The state will already be paying for assistance from the Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota National Guard, though many National Guard costs are federally reimbursable.