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Minnesota Republicans counter Chauvin trial security plan

February 4, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, from left, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, Gov. Tim Walz, House Assistant Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent gather for a forum with media at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, from left, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, Gov. Tim Walz, House Assistant Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent gather for a forum with media at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Senate Republicans on Thursday offered a counterproposal to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s request for security funding ahead of next month’s murder trial for the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

The Republican proposal would target Minneapolis by requiring cities to pay for assistance provided by other local law enforcement agencies that send in personnel. If a city fails to reimburse those agencies for their help, the state would divert money the city gets from the state’s local government aid program — which helps cities maintain services and infrastructure and prevent local property tax hikes — to pay that bill. It contains no new money for trial-related security.

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The proposal comes a day after Walz highlighted his request for a $35 million State Aid and Emergencies (SAFE) account that would pay back Minneapolis and other local governments for providing mutual aid for “unplanned or extraordinary public safety events.” Republicans have pushed back on that proposal, calling it a bailout for poor budget decisions and anti-police sentiment among Minneapolis leaders.

“Too many communities did not get paid when they came to Minneapolis’ aid throughout the summer,” GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said during a news conference Thursday. “That’s wrong. Minneapolis needs to make sure that they take care of their bills.”

The Democratic governor and mayor came under Republican criticism last summer for not sending in the National Guard sooner to quell unrest that turned violent in Minneapolis and St. Paul after Floyd’s death sparked worldwide protests. Republican candidates used the law and order issue in November to help maintain their majority in the Minnesota Senate and reduce the Democratic majority in the state House.

Gazelka’s spokeswoman said the city still owes other law enforcement agencies $137,000 for their assistance last summer.

“The State of Minnesota has been working with local police departments for months to prepare for this global event,” Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said in a statement. “Messing around with local government aid to punish the City of Minneapolis is not a serious plan to prepare for a public safety challenge of this magnitude. The clock is ticking.”

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said cities don’t usually charge each other for help in a crisis, and that the city only received the two invoices for assistance last summer. Frey also pointed out that $617 million collected by the state from Minneapolis in sales tax alone in 2017 was nearly $100 million more than the total amount of local government aid distributed by the state that same year.

“In other words, what the state collects from MPLS in sales tax – that’s not including income and property taxes – is enough to cover LGA for every municipality in the state.” the mayor tweeted. “In good times and tough times, our state works best when we all pull together.”

As some Minneapolis City Council members push a new proposal for replacing the city’s police department — the latest iteration of a defund-the-police effort — Police Chief Medaria Arradondo notified the council Thursday that his department is now down to about 640 available officers. That’s 200 fewer than two years ago, he said. Attrition last year was about 105 officers, compared with 40 to 44 in a typical year. The department’s authorized strength is 888.

“That increased rate of attrition has made planning and staffing more challenging amid a tumultuous time,” Frey said in a Facebook post. “We’ve had to make hard decisions to shift available resources to patrol and investigative work.” Those decisions have included drastic reductions in community-oriented policing initiatives, fewer officers for the SWAT team and bomb squad and fewer trainers, he said.

Derek Chauvin is the white ex-officer who held his knee to the neck of Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and pleading for air. He will be tried separately from the three other former officers accused in his death.

Minutes before the news conference, Walz’s office made public a letter he received in December signed by Gazelka and six other Senate Republicans showing that they had been willing to spend state money just a few weeks ago. It asked the governor to “urgently consider” a $7.6 million request by the Minneapolis Police Department for costs related to preventing potential unrest when Chauvin goes on trial March 8.

“The rioting we saw this summer not only caused unnecessary injuries and loss of life, but also destroyed the livelihoods of many of our neighbors and prevented citizens from engaging in their right to peacefully protest,” the letter reads. “It is our hope that you share with us the desire that this devastation that our community experienced will never happen again.”

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.