Republican senators call on feds to take over MPD investigation

Three Minnesota Republican senators are calling for a federal investigation of the city of Minneapolis and its police, accusing city officials of making Minneapolis a more dangerous place.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the senators said it would be impossible for Minneapolis to protect its residents' civil rights if the majority of City Council members follow through on their pledge to dismantle and replace the Minneapolis Police Department. The senators also said the state is not capable of a fair civil rights investigation against MPD because Minnesota's human rights commissioner "already made up her mind" that there's systemic racism in the department.

The senators said -- without providing evidence -- that a recent spike in shootings is a direct result of the City Council majority's pledge to dismantle and replace the MPD. Since Memorial Day, 111 people have been shot in Minneapolis, seven fatally, according to police records.

"I guess you could say, 'How's that worked out for you so far?" said state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, at a news conference. "The criminals, frankly, they're watching and this is right up their alley."

No dismantling has happened yet, and some Minneapolis council members have vowed to take a year to study the issue. The GOP senators did not say whether the current MPD system should be better able to handle the shootings. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and two Democratic state senators criticized the news conference as an attempt to distract from the Legislature's failure to pass police accountability measures last week. Republicans who control the Senate adjourned an eight-day special session with no deal on policing.

Frey said a federal investigation would be unnecessary because of the state's ongoing human rights probe.

"Pushing for a duplicative effort would further divert resources from city staff and law enforcement and is an attempt to distract from the important police reform work that lawmakers should be doing at the state Capitol," Frey said in an emailed statement.

Minneapolis Police practices have been in the spotlight since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a now-fired Minneapolis officer held him to the ground for several minutes with a knee on Floyd's neck.

The three senators said the U.S. Department of Justice had not yet responded to their request, which was sent Monday.

After a reporter asked if the senators thought there was a culture of racism within the Minneapolis Police, they downplayed the issue. The three -- Ingebrigtsen, Scott Newman and Dave Senjem -- are all white and from greater Minnesota.

"As far as racism, I think it’s just a sidebar here is what it is. I’m sorry to say that," Ingebrigtsen said. "I want somebody to be treated exactly the same as somebody that’s – whatever color. There shouldn’t be any color involved here."

A Democratic lawmaker from Minneapolis blasted Ingebrigtsen's comments.

"It is insulting to suggest that racism is a sidebar to the pattern of police violence from the MPD against Black and brown communities,” said state Sen. Jeff Hayden in an emailed statement. “Structural racism is a central issue in need of investigating."

The senators said they had no confidence in the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to conduct an impartial investigation of MPD. The agency's commissioner, Rebecca Lucero, has said Minnesota must "do better" when it comes to discriminatory practices.

"Before they even started the investigation, they came to the conclusion that the entire department is a racist organization," said Newman, R-Hutchinson.

A spokesman for the state Department of Human Rights did not directly respond to the senators' accusations but pointed to an agreement already brokered between the city and state to ban police chokeholds.

"The Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ investigation has already resulted in immediate changes the Minneapolis Police Department implemented to stop ongoing irreparable harm to communities of color and Indigenous communities and that work continues," said Taylor Putz, the spokesman.