Judge Rules Minneapolis Residents Have Standing to Sue Over Police Reduction

by Scott McClallen


Minneapolis residents have standing to sue the city over an alleged police staffing violation, Hennepin County District Court Judge Jamie Anderson has ruled.

Anderson’s order rejected the city of Minneapolis’ attempt to throw out the lawsuit because the city said residents lacked standing to sue.

Anderson said he didn’t have enough information yet to decide on the outcome sought by plaintiffs.

Still, Anderson cited McKee v. Likins, in which the Minnesota Supreme Court held that “[t]axpayers are legitimately concerned with the performance by public officers of their public duties. Accordingly … a taxpayer suing as a taxpayer has standing to challenge administrative action which allegedly is rulemaking adopted without compliance with the statutory notice requirements.”

Eight Minneapolis residents sued the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey in August, arguing they violated the charter requirement to staff roughly 743 officers for the 425,000-person city.

The lawsuit argues that the number of licensed police officers has dropped from 825 at the start of 2020 to about 634.

The lawsuit alleged city officials reduced police funding in 2020 by about $1.1 million during a police shortage following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Anderson ruled city officials “have no authority to divert funds from the Minneapolis Police Department if they have not met their public duty to fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident.”

Anderson added that “misallocation of money that properly should fund a police force is an unlawful disbursement of funds.”

“Respondents are collecting tax money that should be paying for the police force, but is paying for something else,” Anderson wrote. “This alleged misallocation of money would ‘likely increase the tax burden on the government’s taxpayers.’”

The order allows the petitioners to submit a discovery plan and set an evidentiary hearing in early 2021.

Cathy Spann, one of the plaintiffs, said: “The Court rightly rejected the City’s attempt to have our lawsuit dismissed because we haven’t taken bullets ourselves, as we have watched our neighborhoods become full of violence and stray bullets,” Spann said in a statement.

“We look forward to testifying in Court about the City’s failure to protect us, and we will get to the bottom of the actual numbers of police officers protecting the North Side and the City.”

The lawsuit follows a violent crime wave in the city. The city has tallied roughly 77 homicides in the first 10-plus months of 2020, the Star Tribune reported, outpacing 48 homicides in 2019.

More than 500 people have been shot this year. More than 100 officers have left the department in 2020, more than double the typical average.

Five months ago, a majority of the City Council vowed to “dismantle” the police department. But in a 7-6 vote last week, they authorized spending $500,000 to hire between 20 and 40 outside law enforcement officers to respond to 911 calls related to violence through Dec. 31.

Doug Seaton, president of the Upper Midwest Law Center representing the residents, celebrated the ruling, made Friday.

“We applaud the Court’s decision to set this case on for an evidentiary hearing. We look forward to discovering the true number of employees on the Minneapolis police force, and we look forward to seeing the City uphold its legal obligation to fund and employ enough police officers to keep Minneapolis safe,” Seaton said in a statement.

The lawsuit sought a mandamus action for the court to order Frey and the City Council to adhere to the city charter requirement of hiring and deploying a minimum of 743 licensed peace officers.

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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.


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