Two days after George Floyd’s murder, the University of Minnesota announced it would sever most of its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department.
President Joan Gabel told students and faculty that the school would no longer contract MPD for specialized services like bomb detection and traffic control. It also would stop hiring off-duty MPD officers for help at football games and other big events.
“We have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them,” Gabel said in the letter.
The decision, which could have far-reaching effects for the school and its athletic department, was light on details. Gabel didn’t mention how much the school typically spends on security with its hometown police, nor how the school planned to replace those contracts moving forward.
In the ensuing months, Sportico has learned, the decision has been simplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten’s decision to cancel fall football. Instead of breaking contracts, the university now plans to let them lapse, according to someone familiar with the plans. And instead of finding replacement security for this fall, the school likely has another year to lock in alternatives.
At stake is around $232,000. That’s what the school paid MPD or its officers in Fiscal 2019 across all of their dealings, according to documents Sportico obtained through open records requests. More than half of that money went toward traffic control and more than 85% of it was for sporting events, either Golden Gophers football or games played by the city’s MLS team, which was a tenant in the school’s stadium.
Schools vary in their approaches to big-event security, but all generally use a mix of on-campus agencies, local police departments and occasionally private firms. The University of Minnesota has an on-campus police department, licensed by the state, whose jurisdiction includes the football stadium. That group carries firearms and can make arrests, and its 53 sworn officers handle a lot of the security demands on campus.
Outside of investigations and joint patrols, the university works with local law enforcement in three main ways. The first two are a pair of MPD contracts, one for traffic control and the other for bomb detection around major events. In FY2019, the school paid $135,000 for the former and $88,000 for the latter.
Gabel’s plan was to unwind those contracts prior to the fall football season, the next time MPD officers would have been needed in that capacity. Once it became clear that concerts and football games wouldn’t be held this year, the school decided to let those contracts lapse, according to someone familiar with the plans. One expires at the end of the year, the other at the end of May.
The school also hires a handful of off-duty MPD officers for more standard security surrounding big events. For that work there is no city contract; the school’s campus police force hires officers from a number of agencies to work each event.
In FY2019, MPD officers were used in this manner for 15 events, including all seven home football games. They were paid a total of $9,190.02, according to the school. (The school declined to comment for this story; the MPD and its union didn’t respond to requests for comment).
To fill that void, the school will likely turn to other law enforcement agencies. Gophers events already include officers from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the St. Paul police department and officers from suburbs like Bloomington.
It’s unclear how easy it will be to swap one group for another. Law enforcement is a fraternal profession, and the school’s vocal stance on MPD might affect its relationship with its own police, and others in the area.
“What that relationship with the campus police looks like going forward will be a critical aspect of this,” said Brad Bates, former Boston College athletic director. “Traditionally the campus police and the local police departments work very closely and have close relationships. In fact, at a lot of schools the campus police used to be city police officers.”
Sportico reached out to a number of police departments and officer unions in the area. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said it would be happy to discuss an expanded relationship; the St. Paul Police Department said that if contacted by the university, “we will consider their request just like any other time we have worked together.”
For the school, any headaches sourcing new contracts may be outweighed by the positives of the decision. Bates praised the speed of the decision, which he said sent a powerful message to the university community that the school was willing to play an active role in police reform.
In the aftermath of Floyd’s death and the reaction both locally and nationally, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis city council vowed that they’d dismantle the police force and replace it with a new system of public safety. That process has already been delayed as a ballot measure and will likely take years to sort out.
“Our campuses and facilities are a part of the communities in which they reside,” Gabel said in her letter. “We must act when our neighbors are harmed and in pain.”