Plaintiffs sue to keep Minneapolis cops on the job

Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau watched.
A group of north Minneapolis residents is suing the city to compel it to maintain the legal minimum of police officers on the Minneapolis Police Department.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2015

Updated: Aug. 21, 2:55 p.m.

A group of north Minneapolis residents is suing the city to compel it to maintain the legal minimum of police officers on the force. Group members say the number of cops has already dropped below that level. However, city officials say currently the department's staffing more than meets the standard set by the city charter. 

Plaintiffs Don and Sondra Samuels say the violence on their block alone has reached unprecedented levels. Neighbors’ homes and cars are being punctured by stray bullets. One shooting narrowly missed a six-month-old baby which was in a car parked on the street.

Don, a former City Council member, said the council’s attempt to defund the department has emboldened “the criminal community.”

“If you have a beef to settle. If you’ve ever dreamt of driving down West Broadway at 60 miles an hour. If you’ve ever wanted to do some open drug dealing,” he said. “Now is the time.” 

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Sondra said the pandemic is also to blame for the uptick in violence. People are more stressed than ever as the virus has threatened their lives and their jobs. And Sondra said now is not the time to try and reduce the police force. 

“I understand people wanting to get rid of police,” she said, referring to the list of Black men killed by police. “I feel that. But then wisdom kicks in. And experience kicks in.”

Some north side residents, particularly those living in neighborhoods that have seen high crime rates, have said the idea of making major changes to the department right now makes them worry about their safety.

Another plaintiff, Audua Pugh, who is a board member with the Jordan Area Community Council, said crime had been on the decrease in the neighborhood before this year. And Pugh said neighbors appreciate the presence of officers. 

“I understand that police come after the fact. I understand they can’t so much stop a crime,” she said. “But what they can do is  — you know when you pick up the phone — there’s a comfortability in that. Knowing that somebody is going to come see about me.”

The suit is based on media reports of the number of officers who’ve left the force so far this year. In July the city reported that 111 officers had taken leaves of absence. Brian Peters, head of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said a few hundred more officers are expected to take leave by the end of the year. 

City officials say the most recent tally of officers employed by MPD is 856. The suit states that the current level of staffing required under the charter — which is based on the city's population — is 743. 

A few weeks ago the city’s Charter Commission delayed the council’s plan to allow voters to decide if the city should amend the charter to include a public safety agency, which would replace the Police Department. However, the proposal said the new agency could employ licensed peace officers. 

But the council has already made cuts to the current police budget. And Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed 2021 budget will not fill 100 open positions in the Police Department.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center. The law center shares an address, but is a separate organization from, the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank based in Golden Valley that has funded pro-police billboards around Minneapolis.

Don and Sondra Samuels are not political conservatives. But Sondra said none of the other firms they reached out to would take the case.

“We don’t have time to waste,” she said. “My interest is in saving lives.”   

A city spokesperson said the city attorney’s office is reviewing the suit and will not discuss it at this time. 

Editor’s note (Aug. 21, 2020): A previous version of this story did not clearly state the connection between the Upper Midwest Law Center and the Center of the American Experiment. The above story has been updated.