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Proposed ‘SAFE’ account aims to reimburse mutual aid costs for critical incidents

Nearby law enforcement agencies answered the call to help quell the civil unrest in Minneapolis after last year’s death of George Floyd in police custody.

And in providing that mutual aid, they incurred substantial costs in overtime, supplies, food, and lodging for officers.

The financial stress caused by those responses is the impetus for HF445, which would create the State Aid for Emergencies (SAFE) account as a state contingency fund to reimburse local communities for public safety overtime and staffing costs provided through mutual aid after significant critical incidents occur.

Approved, as amended, on a 9-7 party-line vote Tuesday by the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, its next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion.

There’s an urgency to get the SAFE account established, said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair and bill sponsor.

More civil unrest is expected when four ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death are scheduled to go on trial beginning in March, Mariani said.

To fund the account initially, the bill would transfer $35 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2021.

“This is a solution for an urgent matter,” said Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.

Provisions would allow law enforcement agencies to apply to the Department of Public Safety for reimbursement for costs incurred in “critical incidents” that overwhelm them financially.

Local governments asking for extra law enforcement assistance would be eligible to get 75% of their expenses reimbursed; agencies responding to a request for mutual aid would be eligible for 100% reimbursement.

Mutual aid is a core principle of policing, said Harrington, adding that law enforcement agencies unquestionably accept and act on their duty to help any jurisdiction that needs it.

But agencies still have to live within their budgets, he said, and there is sometimes a sense of unfairness that mutual aid can be mostly one way, such as when an agency in Greater Minnesota sends personnel to the Twin Cities with no expectation that metro-area agencies would ever be called to Greater Minnesota.

That perceived unfairness was raised by several non-metro legislators, who called the bill a “bail out for Minneapolis.”

Mariani pushed back against that characterization, saying funds in the SAFE account would be available to law enforcement jurisdictions anywhere in the state responding to a variety of situations such as floods or other natural disasters.

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