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With budget moves, Minneapolis Council looks to take middle path on public safety

Council has been trying to balance the desires of those who say the Minneapolis Police Department needs more officers and those who want more emphasis on community-led efforts. 

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During its meeting to amend the mayor’s budget proposal for the coming year on Friday, the Minneapolis council unanimously agreed to shift around proposed spending in Mayor Jacob Frey’s $1.62 billion budget proposal so that the police department can grow its number of cadet trainees by one-third next year.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee

After a series of heated public meetings over 2020 police staffing, the Minneapolis City Council has agreed to expand the city’s number of officers in training while keeping the department’s force the same size.

During its Friday meeting to amend the mayor’s budget proposal for the coming year, the Minneapolis council unanimously agreed to shift around proposed spending in Mayor Jacob Frey’s $1.62 billion budget proposal so that the police department can grow its number of cadet trainees by one-third next year. 

Essentially, the change will allow MPD to have three recruitment classes in 2020, instead of the current system of two. It’s unclear how many sworn officers will join the department as a result of the change, since graduation results vary, though a typical class has around 38 cadets.

“Certainly, this is adding more officers,” Frey told reporters after the meeting Friday.

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“I couldn’t tell you by exactly how much, but it increases it to some degree,” added Council Member Steve Fletcher, who helped write the amendment.

Council members called the decision a middle-ground solution between requests from residents who want additional police officers and those who do not trust MPD and instead want community-led efforts to curb crime. The council is set to finalize the 2020 spending plan on Wednesday, after a final budget hearing.

“This is a pretty big compromise, and the way I see it, compromise is the only way to go,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who chairs the city’s budget committee. “Training is the root of everything we do with public safety, in terms of sworn officers, and it is an extremely appropriate place to always invest.”

The discussions consumed much of Friday’s four-hour meeting, which included more than two dozen amendments to the mayor’s original spending plan. None of those amendments altered Frey’s proposal to raise the city’s property tax levy by roughly 7 percent, however, which means the city is still on track to implement the largest levy hike in 10 years.

Addressing MPD staffing

The changes to MPD’s budget required multiple steps. First, the council separated funding for officers’ salaries into two categories one for cadets and another for sworn officers. That change, council members said, will give the public a better look at how, exactly, the department divvies up salaries, as well as give police supervisors a more reliable way to plan precinct-by-precinct staffing levels.

Members of advocacy groups set up posters with photos of people who have died at the hands of MPD on empty chairs in council chambers during Friday’s meeting.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Members of advocacy groups set up posters with photos of people who have died at the hands of MPD on empty chairs in council chambers during Friday’s meeting.
Then, council members eliminated Frey’s most controversial budget proposal: $2.4 million to hire 14 new officers next year, which would have expanded the police force from 888 to 902. Instead, council members passed an amendment to invest that money in the training and recruitment of police cadets, including a one-time boost in funding to pay for the additional trainees.

MPD’s cycle of officer retirements and promotions are at the center of staffing issues, council members said. The changes create a gap between how many police officers are supposed to be on the streets and how many officers are actually working.

For example, in last year’s budget cycle, the council approved funding for 888 sworn police officer positions, though the actual number of officers on the force is “well below that,” Council President Lisa Bender said. The department’s attrition rate hovers at around 30 officers per year, according to Fletcher. 

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“The political conversation doesn’t always align with with where our staffing and our budgeting actually is,” said Fletcher. “We can talk about adding 14 [officers], but if we’re down 40, are we really adding 14 officers?”

Frey said Chief Medaria Arradondo will decide where to assign the new cadets after they graduate from police training, and that he will ask the chief to fill the previously proposed 14 positions including eight neighborhood outreach officers, three sex-crimes and domestic-assault investigators and three traffic officers by promoting current officers when the 2020 cadets graduate.

Total, the council moved to decrease MPD’s 2020 budget by $163,000 from Frey’s proposal, though the budget still grows the department’s funding by about 5 percent from 2019. 

‘Desire for a balanced approach’

Not everyone was on board with the budget adjustments. Members of advocacy groups that want the city to divest from using more sworn police officers, including Reclaim the Block, set up posters with photos of people who have died at the hands of MPD on empty chairs in council chambers during Friday’s meeting. 

Members of the group also interrupted a Friday afternoon news conference hosted by the mayor and council to explain their rationale for the amendments.

“Creating more cadets brings more police officers on the streets, more harm into our communities, less investment in community-led violence prevention,” said Sheila Nezhad, of Reclaim the Block.

Members of Reclaim the Block interrupted a Friday afternoon news conference hosted by the mayor and council to explain their rationale for the amendments.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Members of Reclaim the Block interrupted a Friday afternoon news conference hosted by the mayor and council to explain their rationale for the amendments.
In response to those complaints, Fletcher said that the council worked hard to reach a consensus on its spending adjustments, rather than creating fissures amongst themselves over specific budget lines. Additionally, Frey said while he appreciates all public feedback, he’s thankful that he’s now able to “relay to the public the overall sentiment of the budget.”

Beyond the additional recruitment class, the council’s package of amendments raises Frey’s investment on alternative public-safety strategies by more than $540,000, and increases funding for non-police efforts that target crime and homelessness downtown, which came specifically at the request of the area’s business leaders.

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“One of the things that I heard a lot from my constituents was a desire for a balanced approach,” said Fletcher, who represents downtown. “We need to invest … in a way that reflects our values and that takes advantage of the opportunities to stop crimes from ever getting to the place where they happen, as well as being prepared to respond to things that do go wrong.”

The council also set aside money to analyze the performance and workload of MPD officers; the funding includes $200,000 to continue the work of a group composed of both city officials and residents that’s studying how police department handles 911 calls, as well as money to hire an outside consultant that will explore questions such as whether each squad car needs only one officer versus the department’s existing requirement of two officers per vehicle.

“We have to get real with how our police department is operating,” said Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, who represents south-central Minneapolis and co-sponsored the amendment calling for the external analysis.

Mayor Jacob Frey said while he appreciates all public feedback, he’s thankful that he’s now able to “relay to the public the overall sentiment of the budget.”
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Mayor Jacob Frey said while he appreciates all public feedback, he’s thankful that he’s now able to “relay to the public the overall sentiment of the budget.”
The council also agreed to increase Frey’s spending on the recently established Office of Violence Prevention, a one-stop shop for public-safety programs that uses civilian staff via the city’s health department. Specifically, council members’ increased the mayor’s dedication for a program that connects gang members with social services called Group Violence Intervention, as well as a new initiative that aims to help domestic violence offenders. The office, which the council created in last year’s budget cycle, is set to release results of its first year to council members in early 2020.

Ward 4 Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who helped write the amendment package, praised the office’s work at Friday’s meeting. In addition to the criminal intervention programs, he said, the office provides therapy to people who witness fatal domestic violence, including neighbors in south Minneapolis, where there was a triple-murder suicide over the Thanksgiving weekend

“As a northsider, I’ve heard time and time again — and I have lived it firsthand — that we northsiders are the best equipped to handle the challenges our community faces,” he said. “You don’t get a press conference when you talk somebody off the ledge of going out and committing violence.”

Sprinkler requirements, new position in Civil Rights Department

Following a fire that killed five public-housing residents last month, Friday’s amendments included a change by Council Member Abdi Warsame that ensures all future capital spending on high-rise apartments within the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s system depends on whether developments have fire sprinklers.

Beyond public safety, the council amended the budget to create new staff positions at City Hall, including a position in the labor standards division of the city’s Department of Civil Rights, which has a growing workload due to new ordinances that strengthen workers’ protections against wage theft, and another to promote equity for transgender residents. Council members also agreed to raise salaries for their policy aides by removing proposed funding for the City Attorney’s Office.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who represents Ward 5 and has led efforts to strengthen renter protections over the past year, shifted 2020 spending so the city can study whether rent control makes sense for Minneapolis

Many of the amendments that didn’t address policing were funded out of money Frey had set aside for north Minneapolis’ Village Trust Financial Cooperative, a black-led credit union that council members said has not yet spent its funding from the 2019 budget cycle.

On Wednesday, when council members host the 2020 budget’s final public hearing, they will have the chance to make any last-minute changes before taking a final vote to adopt the plan.