Walz pitches $35M public safety fund ahead of former officers’ trials in Floyd death

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Gov. Tim Walz highlighted a $35 million budget proposal on Wednesday he says will help law enforcement respond to major public safey events, including the upcoming trials of four former Minneapolis Police officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

The State Aid for Emergencies (SAFE) Account would provide public safety cost-share assistance to local governments during an unplanned or extraordinary public safety event, Walz said.

"Over the past year, Minnesota has experienced some of the most significant public safety challenges in a generation," Walz said. "While we cannot predict every challenge that may arise, we can and must be prepared to protect the safety of all Minnesotans. The SAFE Account does just that. By helping local governments with expenses that arise from extraordinary events, we can ensure that the safety of Minnesotans remains the utmost priority."

Local governments across the state would be able to apply for reimbursement funding through the SAFE Account after an extraordinary public safety event. In the short-term, the fund would be used to help with safety ahead of and during the trials of the former Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin’s trial is slated to begin on March 8 with the trial for Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng to start in August.

"As we prepare to keep the peace in anticipation of the trials of the former officers involved in the death of George Floyd, we are working with our state and local law enforcement partners to prevent crime so that people’s voices can be heard," Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington said. "We’re asking legislators to take swift action to make this funding available so we can be fully prepared to keep Minnesota’s homes, places of worship, and workplaces safe."

Walz said there’s currently a gap in state aid for local governments when a public safety event occurs, and the SAFE Account would help keep Minnesotans safe. He added that eligibility would occur when an emergency is declared, all mutual aid has been exhausted and the event isn’t covered by other federal or state disaster assistance programs. It would cover expenses such as overtime costs, travel expenses, food, lodging and incidental supplies for law enforcement officers.

However, the proposal is likely to face some opposition from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka released the following statement Wednesday:

"We are not going to bail out Minneapolis city council after they have made cuts to the public safety budget. Actions to defund the police have consequences. Instead, we will propose an alternative later this week to make sure mutual aid will be reimbursed, law enforcement can respond, and without taking general fund dollars away from education, healthcare, or transportation."

State law enforcement associations generally support the idea of the emergency fund but sent a letter to the Minnesota House expressing some doubts about how the mutual aid agreements will work.

"Our members remain concerned, however, that no matter what legislation is passed, the response for mutual aid will not be as robust as the public may expect," the letter says. "Our members’ concern is due to the continued demonization of law enforcement officers by certain public officials at various levels of government."

That letter was signed by the executive directors of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Associations.

Republicans said they will outline their own proposal for reimbursing law enforcement agencies next week.

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