Editor’s note (12/13/22): A previous editor’s note incorrectly characterized Minneapolis Police budget figures in this article. The figures used in this opinion piece related to the Minneapolis city budget are complicated. The referenced $20 million cut in 2021 does not account for $11.4 million in staffing reserves later released to the police department. The department’s 2022 budget is roughly on par with the original 2020 budget at $193 million, according to city budget staff.
There are not enough police officers in Minneapolis.
As a result, crime is rampant. But there are hopeful signs that the days of police defunding are behind us, thanks to the Minneapolis Eight.
The police defunding “movement” is responsible for the return of “Murderapolis” and the crime and death that has followed it. After the murder of George Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council made good on its pledge to defund the Minneapolis police. It cut more than $10 million from the 2020 budget and then slashed the 2021 budget by another $20 million.
Cause, meet effect: since 2020, hundreds of police officers have left the Minneapolis police force. The Minneapolis City Charter requires 731 officers on the police force as of the 2020 Census. The police force has shrunk from around 900 officers in 2020 to 560 in August 2022. A third of the police force has quit, retired, or gone on leave with few replacements.
The result? Crime like in the bad old days. Carjackings were by more than 500%, murders rose to historic levels, and in 2020, people shot more than 24,000 bullets in Minneapolis.
In the summer of 2021, over a deadly three-week period in April and May, three children under the age of 10 were shot. Two tragically died of their injuries. The third, a now 11-year-old boy, still has a long road of recovery ahead of him.
Parents are scared to let their children play in the backyard or walk down the street. Residents have sent their children to live with relatives. Others are considering, many for the first time, upending their lives and moving to a safer city. Some have already done so. Businesses are hard-pressed to get employees back downtown. Ideas have consequences, and it is the city’s most vulnerable who have suffered from them.
Enter Minneapolis’ Northside heroes, who stepped in to do something about it. Cathy Spann and seven other residents and community leaders saw this violent uptick in crime and the lack of support for adequate staffing from the city council, and they decided enough was enough. In August 2020, they sued the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey for one reason: failure to uphold their legal duty to provide the Charter-required police force. We at the Upper Midwest Law Center were proud to represent them.
After the Minneapolis Eight won in the District Court, instead of recognizing the Charter’s requirement and the effect that failing to meet it has on crime, pro-defunding activists supported a ballot measure to dismantle the police department. This measure would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety and repealed the staffing minimum requirement for the MPD. But the voice of reason prevailed when Minneapolis voters, as a whole, and an even higher percentage of Black voters, rejected this terrible proposal.
In June 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Minneapolis Eight and the Upper Midwest Law Center after two years of litigation and upheld the Charter requirement to fund and staff a minimum police force. The court ruled that Mayor Frey had to show how he planned to employ an adequate police force or explain why he cannot. The decision will have a long-lasting impact: as long as the force minimum is on the books, no Minneapolis mayor can let the MPD dwindle and atrophy.
This lawsuit will prove to be a life-saving measure for Minneapolis residents. After the ruling, Mayor Frey released a proposal to dramatically increase police numbers. His budget proposal included much-needed funding for overtime expenses, partnerships to aid Minneapolis with immediately needed policing, and increases to the officer corps. The city is also pursuing a comprehensive recruitment strategy to aggressively search for the right police candidates for Minneapolis.
This common-sense budget proposal was long overdue and, if adopted as it was, would have gone a long way toward restoring serious law enforcement. It was the first step to turning public safety around in Minneapolis. Residents were encouraged and hopeful. Based on the establishment of the force minimum as a matter of law, and because of Mayor Frey’s good proposal, the Minneapolis Eight dismissed their lawsuit.
On Thursday, City Council members narrowly voted to cut the Mayor’s budget, transferring funding critical to attracting good officers and addressing the rise in crime to other departments. This was a mistake, and, as Mayor Frey rightly said, this cut forces officers to do civilian work and will hurt the people of Minneapolis.
The eight residents who challenged their government are heroes. But without support for Mayor Frey’s full budget proposal from the City Council, the City’s duty to achieve the Charter-mandated force minimum will not have been met. The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) was proud to represent the Minneapolis Eight and will continue to uphold Minnesotans’ rights against government abuses such as police defunding. The UMLC will discuss this new development with our clients and consider whether renewed litigation is necessary to assure that the MPD is adequately funded and staffed.
Doug Seaton is president and founder of the Upper Midwest Law Center and James Dickey is lead attorney for plaintiffs in Spann, et al. v. Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey.