Security plan for Chauvin trial could hit bumps at Capitol

Police in riot gear stand in a line.
State Troopers hold a line on Second Avenue in downtown Minneapolis during riots in August 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Minnesota’s top law enforcement officials expressed concern Tuesday about getting security in place around the upcoming trial of Derek Chauvin as a plan to have the state pay for a beefed-up presence encountered Republican resistance.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee voted along party lines to advance a new $35 million fund to reimburse agencies that send in personnel to assist during “extraordinary or unplanned public safety events.”

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who was shown on a bystander’s video with his knee on the neck of George Floyd last May as the man lost consciousness, will be the first of four former officers to stand trial. Floyd’s death led to both peaceful protests and bouts of riots and looting across the Twin Cities.

State Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told lawmakers it’s important to have an ample law enforcement presence to head off a repeat.

“We want them to come before that so that it doesn’t start burning. So that we can prevent the damage, prevent the looting,” Harrington said. “We want to get out ahead of this, not be in a reactive mode.”

Col. Matt Langer, the head of the State Patrol, intends to call in troopers from around Minnesota throughout the trial and after the verdict. He said local jurisdictions that send in backups want guarantees that they’ll be easily reimbursed for overtime, lodging and other costs of the assistance.

“The thing that keeps me up at night right now as we’re just 30-some days out from jury selection is there still is a mutual aid need within the city of Minneapolis,” Langer said.

Langer said the planning involves city, county and state agencies.

But Republicans on the committee objected, some calling it a Minneapolis bailout.

“It’s basically taking funds from greater Minnesota to push them down to the metro area where the Minneapolis Police Department is not doing its duties,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge. In fact, more state taxes are collected in the seven-county metro area than in greater Minnesota. 

Others were bothered by a provision added by committee Democrats that would establish model policies for police response to public assemblies.

“Let’s have that fund. Let’s keep this clean,” warned Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River. “If you want the $35 million, take it clean.” 

Gov. Tim Walz wants the fund established as soon as next week to give time for security planning ahead of Chauvin’s trial. The three other officers aren’t due to be tried until August.

The proposal’s fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is unclear.

Rep. John Huot, DFL-Rosemount, alluded to the law-and-order campaign messaging ahead of last November’s election as he pushed for passage of the bill.

“This is where those [back the] blue signs in the front yard come to meet the pavement,” he said

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