The following is a transcript of an investigative report on Full Measure News. Click on the link at the end of the transcript to watch the video story.
The city of Minneapolis has become ground zero for calls to change policing in America. It began after the death of George Floyd last year. Then this past week, demonstrators took to the streets again, after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a police officer. Our Scott Thuman recently returned to Minneapolis to look at the demands to defund police, and if some cities are having second thoughts after slashing their police budgets.
This week, outrage filled the streets of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, where another black man died at the hands of police and was caught on tape.
Police officer: Taser! Taser! Taser!. I just shot him.
The police officer, who is white, resigned and was charged with second-degree manslaughter. The chief quit too, and the city manager was fired. Mayor Mike Elliott.
Mayor Elliott: We will do all in our power to make sure that justice is done for Daunte Wright.
This latest deadly incident has only strengthened the same calls we heard last summer that prompted a national movement to reform, and from some circles, to abolish the police. The movement, just like the 3rd police precinct in Minneapolis back then, caught fire.
Last summer, nine members of the Minneapolis city council vowed to dismantle the police department and move to an undefined, undetermined entity to handle the city's emergencies.
Don Samuels, a community organizer, and civil rights activist, has lived in North Minneapolis for more than twenty years.
Don Samuels: We who live in communities like this, we understand that there are a lot of people who are only restrained by external factors.
Scott: Like the police.
Don Samuels: Like the police, like the neighbors who are intervening.Since then, we've heard more gunshots. We used to hear one gunshot every now and then. It seems like now everybody has an automatic rifle or something because it's 20 shots at a time,
The city council voted to divert nine million dollars from the $178 million police budget to violence prevention and mental health.
Across the country, other cities have made dramatic cuts. From New York taking $1 billion from its force, Washington DC cutting $15 million, with Austin and Los Angeles each trimming $150 million from theirs. But now, those very cities and many others, for a host of reasons, have seen alarming spikes in violent crimes, especially homicides. LA up 38 percent, Austin up 41, DC up 14, and New York up 48 percent. In Minneapolis, the homicide rate jumped 70 percent in 2020, violent crime up 22 percent.
Jonathan Lundberg has a reminder of those statistics in his front door.
Jonathan Lundberg: My wife brought me out on the front porch and pointed at that and said, "Oh, what's that?" So I pulled off that piece of siding, and I actually pulled this out of there.
There was another in his daughter's bedroom wall.
Jonathan Lundberg: It doesn't, to me, seem like a stretch to say that there is a direct correlation to the deflation of the police department, the escalation of violence because people are emboldened to say, "I'm not going to get caught. I can get away with whatever I want right now."
Full Measure first met Kevin Davis when he was Baltimore police commissioner in 2017 as that city was reeling from its own riots following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Now Davis teaches college students about criminal justice.
Kevin Davis: When I first heard the words defund, dismantle and abolish, I cringed because I knew what folks meant. It was an effort to reform to enhance, to make better. But I think once those words kind of stuck, particularly defund the police or dismantled the police, that distracted from the necessary reforms that have to take place.
Scott: So how do you find that balance?
Kevin Davis: Police officers are entrusted with two things that no one else in this country, no other profession in this country can do where they can take a life with justification. They can use deadly force and they can take your freedom away by charging you with a crime. Those are awesome responsibilities. And I know when I led the Baltimore police department, the average age of one of our patrol officers was 26 years old. So that's an awesome responsibility for a young person to have policing in communities that struggle with crime.
Especially as more veteran officers are retiring early or taking extended leave, and leaving a dangerous void, in Minneapolis, the number of officers on patrol plummeted. For Don Samuels, that's left him in an ironic position.
Scott: Why the lawsuit?
Don Samuels: We're just preventing this irresponsible city council from being absolutely disastrous in its decision-making.
Samuels and his neighbors are now suing the city to add more police. Based on a per-capita mandate in the city's charter, Minneapolis must have around 750 officers. Because so many have quit or out on long-term leave, some struggling with PTSD, the department is currently about 100 officers below that number, says James Dickey, the attorney for the group of eight residents suing.
James Dickey: There really shouldn't be a fight like this. It shouldn't be that the city is being forced against its will, almost it seems like, to put a certain number of officers on the streets of Minneapolis to protect its citizens. It shouldn't be a struggle. It should just be something that is good public policy, that when citizens are crying out for protection, that the city provides it.
The police chief agrees there need to be more officers, so does the mayor, who recently secured $6.4 million to recruit new ones. They're not alone; some of those same cities we showed you earlier making big cuts, are now trying to re-fund, not defund. In many cases, that means adding money and resources for better officer training and hiring mental health counselors better skilled to handle many 911 calls.
Kevin Davis: Here's a news flash: all these enhancements cost money. They require budget enhancements. So the same time we're using unfortunate terms like defund and dismantle, that the changes that we want to see made in our profession are going to require an even greater investment. Now I know not everyone likes to hear that, but that's really, what's going to get us to a better place.
At the White House, President Biden - who says he doesn't support defunding and who campaigned on the promise of criminal justice reform - is expected to bring back Obama-era federal investigations of local police departments leading to direct Washington oversight in some cities that can last for years. But sweeping change doesn't come overnight. And while many American cities find themselves in limbo, Samuels and others can no longer sit by and wait.
Don Samuels: For the first time since we've moved here, we said to each other something that we've never said before in 24 years, "Maybe we'll have to move."
Jonathan Lundberg has already made that decision; he and his family are packing up and leaving.
Jonathan Lundberg: When I found out that they accepted our counteroffer, I cried because I love this place dearly, and I want to continue to fight. But I found my son in bed one night after a shooting, shaking uncontrollably in the fetal position and in a cold sweat. And he said, "Dad, they're just not going to stop."
Sharyl (on-camera): Scott, what’s happening with the Minneapolis city council’s effort to dismantle/reimagine the police department?
Scott (on-camera): They’re pushing forward, and the city is planning to put the issue to a vote this November to ask residents if they want to replace the police department. But what still isn’t clear is what the replacement force would look like.