Minnesota AG Ellison: ‘Get rid of the word police, I don’t care’

'Why do every single one of our officers carry guns?' Ellison asks when explaining his support for policing reform. 'The fact is, we do have to have a system of public safety, call it what you want.'

Updated: July 17, 2020 - 11:01pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Minnesota Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison is advocating for a "refund the community" approach in place of "defund the police" and questioning why every police officer carries a firearm.

Ellison said he doesn’t care if a city gets rid of the word "police" but there needs to be some sort of public safety system in place.

"Defund the Police" is one of the demands of the activist group Black Lives Matter, which has been leading protests in major cities since the death of George Floyd on May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The Minneapolis City Council voted in favor of a plan to eliminate their police department in June and create the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention in its place.

Ellison was asked if he agrees with the city council's approach.

"I think instead of hearing 'defund the police,' I recommend people hear 'refund the community.' So if you look at the Minneapolis Police Department, their budget is about $193 million," he said during a discussion with Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, on "Racial Injustice Movement and Police Reforms."

"What's our budget for crisis response purposes for people who are in a mental health crisis? We know that about half of the deadly force encounters in Minnesota are people who are in a mental health crisis," he added.

Using Los Angeles and Minneapolis as examples, Ellison said people are living in tents by the roadside "in the richest country in the history of the world."

"If you refund the community, would you need as much in the way of armed paramilitary response to the calls people make?" he said. "Do we really need an armed paramilitary response to a fake $20 bill?"

Ellison, a former U.S. congressman, called for a new approach to policing in America.

"We need to re-conceive of how we do policing, you know, in England the cops don't carry guns — in other countries as well. Why do every single one of our officers carry guns? And some of them are military style weapons and shotguns," he said.

"Are we not setting ourselves up for a certain kind of a culture when we rely so heavily on just deadly force as a way to make sure that people ... comply with the law?" he asked.

In the United Kingdom, the majority of police officers do not carry firearms.

"Most rely on other tools to keep their city safe: canisters of mace, handcuffs, batons and occasionally stun-guns," according to a report from NBC News.

Ellison recalled activists telling him that they have been calling for police reform for too long so now they want to "dismantle the police."

He emphasized that "no one calling for dismantling the police is going to tell you" that crime taking place in cities and towns doesn't need to be addressed.

"The language is designed to provoke us," he said. "They are trying to provoke us, into what? A new conception of how we maintain safety."

Ellison said there still needs to be a public safety system in place after any police reform is implemented.

"The fact is, we do have to have a system of public safety, call it what you want. Get rid of the word police, I don't care," he said. "But at the end of the day, you know, we've got people shooting at each other, we've got people who are victims of crime, violence, and we need a system to address that."