A group of eight Minneapolis residents now await a judge’s ruling after filing a lawsuit against the city for allegedly scaling back the police presence in their neighborhood in the months after the police killing of George Floyd and the unrest that followed.
Residents believe that, after the city council announced that they were disbanding the Minneapolis police department (MPD) in June, too many officers have been taken off the streets. They are arguing the reduction has contributed to an increase in violence and crime.
Minneapolis, like many other cities across the country, has struggled with violence this year. There have been over 4,000 violent crimes in 2020, including 65 homicides. Overall, violent crime is up 20% across the city compared to last year.
In the lawsuit, the residents cite the city’s high crime rates and say that it is the responsibility of city officials to keep people safe.
“Instead, the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey have violated their duties to fund, employ and manage a police force as required by the City Charter,” the suit reads. “Rather than work to improve public safety, the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey are making the city unsafe for its citizens, thus requiring this Court’s intervention.”
“Mayor Frey has consistently supported Chief Arradondo and has worked to help him secure the resources he needs to recruit new officers and shift the department’s culture,” Mychal Vlatkovich, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said in a statement sent to TIME.
The lawsuit lies seemingly in opposition to widespread calls made this summer for action across the U.S. to defund police departments. But Minneapolis residents note a disparity between many activists calling for defunding and those living in neighborhoods where police presence is often needed.
“We hear gunshots every night. People’s houses being riddled with bullets,” Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis city council member and one of the residents involved in the suit, tells TIME.
The north side of the city has been plagued by what Samuels describes as “open drug dealing” and daily shootings. “We are 100% behind reforming [the police department],” he continues, “but there is this kind of fantasy component that the police are not necessary and that is a life and death factor… We live this and so we invest here. This is not just an idea.”
Doug Seaton, an attorney for the community members, says that they understand the killing of George Floyd was a “horrific incident,” but believe the city still needs law enforcement officers on the streets.
“Our plaintiffs believe the city has to take actions to reform but they also have to maintain the force so that it can do the job that has to be done,” Seaton says.
In June, the Minneapolis city council voted to dissolve the city’s police department and replace it with a new public safety program. According to the Mayor’s 2021 budget plan, there is a $14 million cut to the department’s funds for next year.
The council has since walked some of their initial promises back, but the residents involved in the lawsuit say a number of steps have been taken to make the department less effective. These include the canceling of officers’ training, a freeze on the hiring of new officers and some council members making disparaging comments about the MPD.
“The City Council and the Mayor have told the police unequivocally that their jobs will soon be eliminated and that their service will no longer be required or desired,” the suit says. “Due to the hostile working conditions created by Mayor Frey and the City Council, by the end of July, more than 200 officers had applied for disability—about 20% of the entire force. According to a city spokesperson, on July 17 a total of 111 officers were on some type of medical leave, including 40 PTSD claims filed just since May 26.”
(Others have alleged that officers were quitting or seeking retirement because they were concerned about additional oversight anticipated in response to Floyd’s death.)
With such a drop seemingly apparent in the police department’s ranks, residents believe that the leaders in Minneapolis have “violated their duties to fund, employ, and manage a police force as required by the City Charter,” which says there must be a minimum of 753 officers in the department to protect residents.
Seaton says they believe the city has less than that.
“We know that the numbers are declining dramatically and that is our challenge. We are saying that this charter is mandatory for the city and the court should require them to adhere to it,” Seaton says.
On Monday, the plaintiffs made their case in front of a state judge. Attorneys for the city, meanwhile, told the judge that the lawsuit should be thrown out—because none of the plaintiffs have been hit by gunfire.
“To get standing we need to take a bullet, right?” Sondra Samuels, another of the plaintiffs and the wife of Don Samuels, told local news channel WCCO. “We’ve seen our neighbors take bullets. We know the 20 year old, we know the six month old who’s in the car when her mom gets shot up.”
The city attorney’s office says that they are confident that the city council is following the city charter, however, on Monday they did not reveal how many officers are currently on patrol shifts on the streets.
The judge’s ruling is due within 90 days. Plaintiffs hope that ruling will force the city to comply with its charter, Seaton says, as well as to stop any hiring freezes and ensure proper training for the MPD is in place.
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