by Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Minneapolis, MN – Three Minneapolis City Council members who have demanded the city’s police force be dismantled have been using taxpayer dollars to pay for their own private security details.
Over the course of the past three weeks, the city has doled out $63,000 to pay for the private security for councilmembers Alondra Cano, Phillipe Cunningham, and Andrea Jenkins, KMSP reported.
All three have vehemently argued to disband the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Cunningham said that his taxpayer-funded security is temporary, but refused to discuss the matter further.
“I don’t feel comfortable publicly discussing the death threats against me or the level of security I currently have protecting me from those threats,” he told KMSP in a text message.
Jenkins claimed that she has received threats through social media, emails and letters.
“My concern is the large number of white nationalist(s) in our city and other threatening communications I’ve been receiving,” she told KMSP in an email.
Jenkins said she has been too busy dealing with the “global pandemic and global uprising” in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd to report the alleged threats to the MPD.
She said that people have threatened her due to her gender identity, ethnicity, and sexuality, KMSP reported.
Cano did not respond to requests for comment on her security, according to KMSP.
The security details are costing taxpayers $4,500 every day.
It is unclear whether or not additional city councilmembers are also receiving private security, and the city did not respond to requests for clarification on the issue, FOX News reported.
The city opted to hire private security instead of using MPD officers in order to avoid pulling more officers off of the streets, a city spokesperson told KMSP.
The city council must approve contracts that exceed $175,000 if those contracts are not related to an emergency declaration.
According to the city spokesperson, the councilmembers’ private security details are not expected to exceed that figure, KMSP reported.
It is unknown who approved the private security expenditures.
The MPD said it has not received any recent reports of city councilmembers being threatened, but noted that such reports could have been filed confidentially.
Five members of the Minneapolis City Council authored an amendment to the city charter which, if it makes it onto the November ballot, would give voters the option to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department.
Under the amendment, the police department would be replaced by a Department of Community Service and Violence Prevention that would take a “holistic” and “public-health oriented” approach to keeping the city safe, KFGO reported.
The city council passed the proposed amendment 12-0 on Friday, The Hill reported.
It will now proceed to a policy committee and the city’s Charter Commission for review.
Charter Commissioner Chairman Barry Clegg said the process feels rushed, WIFR reported.
“As I understand it, they are saying, ‘We are going to have this new department. We don’t know what it’s going to look like yet. We won’t implement this for a year, we’ll figure it out,’” Clegg said. “For myself anyway, I would prefer that we figured it out first, and then voted on it.”
He explained that the ballot measure must finish the review process, be passed by the council, and go through a mayoral veto period before Aug. 21 in order to be finalized and placed on the November ballot, WIFR reported.
But Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has said he will not support abolishing the police department and has expressed concerns about the amendment to the city charter.
Council members initially announced plans to disband the police department in the wake of riots throughout the city following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd while he was being arrested by the Minneapolis police on May 25.
On June 7, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council announced that they would vote to disband the city’s police department, KSMP reported.
They proudly told supporters at a rally on June 7 that they had the votes to override Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s veto of the move, after the mayor came out against abolishing the city’s law enforcement agency.
But it turned out that the city council doesn’t have the power to disband the police department, nor can they tell it what to do, KSMP reported.
The city charter requires the city council to fund the police department and details a formula as to how many police officers should be funded based on the city’s population. And then the city charter tasks the mayor’s office with full authority over the police department.
Right now, the city charter requires the council to fund 723 police officers, based on the most recent population estimates, KSMP reported.
The current city budget actually provided for 888 sworn police officers this year.
In order to reduce the size of the department significantly or disband it completely, there would have to be a unanimous vote of the Minneapolis City Council and the mayor, or the approval of the public via a ballot measure, according to KSMP.
“We might have to take it to the people to have a vote on it, but I think there are a lot of ways in which the council can move forward with the plan even if the mayor isn’t on board,” City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, whose father – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison – has personally taken on the prosecution of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death.
But despite the stated goal of dismantling the police department, the city council doesn’t seem to have a plan to replace the officers with an alternative way to guard their safety and security.
Councilmembers at the rally talked said calling a neighbor or a social worker could be the new alternatives to calling 911, KSMP reported.
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, in an interview with CNN, was asked what residents of Minneapolis would do if there were no police and a criminal was breaking into their home in the middle of the night.
“Yes, I mean, I hear that loud and clear from a lot of my neighbors. And I know – and myself too – I know that that comes from a place of privilege because for those of us for whom the system is working, I think we need to step back and imagine what it would feel like to already live in that reality, where calling the police may mean more harm is done,” Bender said.
Many lawmakers have denounced the Minneapolis Police Department as a whole.
“You can’t really reform a department that is rotten to the root,” U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar told CNN. “What you can do is rebuild, and so this is our opportunity.”
Omar said that Minneapolis is “committed to dismantling a department that is beyond repair so that the community has the space to come together to reimagine what public safety looks like.”
However, in the weeks since Floyd’s death, as police have been hamstrung by local officials, crime has seen a dramatic increase in Minneapolis, WIFR reported.
Many Minneapolis residents and business owners do not support abolishing the police department.
Don Blyly, whose bookstores were destroyed in the Floyd riots, said he won’t re-open in Minneapolis if local leaders do something “sufficiently stupid” like getting rid of police, WIFR reported.
“There are legitimate problems with the Minneapolis police, but the way the politicians are going about it is just ridiculous,” Blyly said. “They are pandering to a certain segment of the electorate.”