Minnesota officials raise security concerns about Chauvin trial, GOP derides $35 million fund as 'bailout'

Minnesota public safety officials raised doubts Tuesday about having enough law enforcement in Minneapolis during the March trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer charged with murder for the death of George Floyd.

"The thing that keeps me up at night right now with 30-some days out from jury selection is there’s still a mutual aid need within the city of Minneapolis," Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer told House lawmakers during a committee hearing.

State lawmakers are sharply divided over how to improve the security situation. Gov. Tim Walz is calling for speedy creation of a $35 million special fund to reimburse cities that send officers in during emergencies, a proposal Republicans decried as a "bailout."

The trouble goes deeper than money. Three Minnesota police groups said Tuesday that some agencies won't respond because of political rhetoric against police officers.

"Our members remain concerned...that no matter what legislation is passed, the response for mutual aid will not be as robust as the public may expect. Our members’ concern is due to the continued demonization of law enforcement officers by certain public officials at various levels of government," wrote the heads of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Minnesota Sheriffs Association and Minnesota Police Chiefs Association.

Floyd died on Memorial Day 2020 after Chauvin held him to the ground by putting his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes. The incident sparked several nights of community protests by day and rioting by night, driving a deeper wedge between community groups and law enforcement.

The divisions were on display during a contentious hearing of the House Public Safety committee Tuesday, where Democrats advanced the $35 million special fund bill on a 10-7 vote.

Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said the fund would allow the state to protactively get guarantees of help from surrounding communities before Chauvin's trial. Jury selection is scheduled to start March 8 and the state and local agencies are "well into" the security planning, Harrington said.

But the bill's fate in the GOP-controlled Senate after House Republicans criticized the special fund.

"It’s basically taking funds from greater Minnesota to push them down into the Metro area where the Minneapolis Police Department is not doing their duties, and the Minneapolis City Council," said state Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge.

Democrats fought back against the characterization of the bill as a bailout.

"I just want to respond to the comments about this being a Minneapolis bailout," said state Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. "That is not accurate. That bill does not apply only to Minneapolis. It’s eligible for any community." 

Typically, surrounding communities send officers to help during emergencies in a process called mutual aid. Walz's budget also calls for 600 law enforcement officials from the State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources to assist.

Democrats tacked an amendment onto the special fund bill that would require police officers to follow new "model policies" for handling public assemblies. 

State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said Minnesota faced some potentially "really tough issues" in the coming months. But Republicans opposed the additional policy requirement.

"Do you want this bill to pass or not?" asked state Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River. "You have the votes to push this through this committee if you want. The question is, will you ever get the Senate to approve it?"