Top Minnesota Democrats steer clear of 'dismantle the MPD' movement

Three top Minnesota Democrats declined to take a clear position Monday on whether the Minneapolis Police Department should be dismantled and replaced, as a majority of the City Council is pledging to do in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Nine of the 13 council members said Sunday that they wanted to defund, dismantle or abolish the MPD and replace it with a yet-to-be-announced public safety agency. There's no written proposal, and council members have suggested that it may take a year of community input before a vote.

The pledge turned into a national debate overnight, with President Donald Trump's campaign seizing on it as a 2020 political issue. But Minnesota's top Democrats steered clear of taking a position on the issue happening in the state's biggest city.

"I think it was that visceral scream of people wanting something different and not accepting this. It tells me that change is on the horizon," Gov. Tim Walz told reporters, lamenting that the issue "is being caught in a sound bite."

Walz said the issue of changing outcomes in black communities is "much more complex" and involves more funding for public schools and additional support for black-owned businesses.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman said little about the issue after a Monday morning tour of businesses damaged by unrest in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Minneapolis. When a reporter asked if the state had a role to play in the debate, Hortman said "that's really a city issue" and deferred to Minneapolis Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who was standing next to her.

Hortman did not comment further.

Senate DFL Leader Susan Kent also steered away from taking a public stance.

"It’s not our place to support or not support that. That is a local issue and historically the Legislature tends to stay out of that," Kent, DFL-Woodbury, told reporters on a video conference call.

Kent said she was not worried about Republicans linking suburban Democrats like her to the "dismantle" effort in Minneapolis, saying "I get linked to all sorts of things that I have not been attached to."

Republicans were quick to jump on the issue. Trump tweeted Monday morning, "LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!"

The Republican leader of the Minnesota Senate, Paul Gazelka, dismissed the idea Friday, before a majority of the Minneapolis City Council had gotten on board.

"I do not think we should abolish the police force," said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. "I think that is a huge mistake."

Much is unknown about the Minneapolis plan. There's no written proposal, and Ellison told reporters Monday that it may be a year before a final vote as city officials first look to the community for input. 

Council members recognize there still needs to be "a mechanism to keep everybody safe in our city" without the MPD, he said.

If council members decide to drop below a minimum threshold of sworn officers -- currently about 723, based on population estimates -- it would require a citywide vote to amend the Minneapolis charter in a process similar to an amendment to the state constitution. 

However, the city charter allows for "special police officers" to be hired in addition to the sworn officers.

State officials are eyeing two other opportunities to make police policy changes. The Legislature will likely return for a special session Friday, and DFL lawmakers from the Twin Cities have proposed a series of licensing and oversight changes.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has launched a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police. State officials have said they're working toward a consent decree with the city that would impose court-mandated changes on the MPD.