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What Minneapolis’ budget debate actually means — for the city, the MPD, and future of policing in the city

Approved after a meeting that saw more than four hours of public testimony, the city’s $1.5 billion budget shifts some money away from the Minneapolis police, while maintaining the authorized size of the department at its current level. 

Minneapolis Police Department, 1st Precinct, downtown Minneapolis
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The key point of contention between Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council was the mayor’s proposed $176 million allotment to the Minneapolis Police Department.
Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins called the budget passed by the 13-member council last week a “compromise document.”

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Approved after a meeting that saw more than four hours of public testimony, the final $1.5 billion budget shifts $7.7 million in Minneapolis Police Department funds to non-police departments for a series of crime-prevention initiatives. But a last-minute change also maintains the city’s ability to hire more police in future years, a measure prompted by a veto threat from Mayor Jacob Frey. 

Now that the budget has been formally adopted — Frey signed it on Friday — here’s a look at what it will mean for city government, the police department — and efforts to reform how policing is done in Minneapolis.

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The bottom line

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn prompted city staff to project revenue losses of $156 million this year. In response, Frey proposed a 2021 budget of $1.47 billion. Compared to the $1.56 billion budget adopted for 2020, the 2021 budget reduces expenditures by about 6 percent, or roughly $93 million. 

That number includes cuts for almost every department. Community Planning and Economic Development, for example, would see over $30 million slashed, and the Convention Center would see a cut of more than $17 million. But there are also investments in certain programs, including $7.2 million for affordable housing initiatives and $5 million to help business owners buy properties they rent. 

Mayor Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Mayor Jacob Frey
The key point of contention between Frey and the council was the mayor’s proposed $176 million allotment to the Minneapolis Police Department.

Frey’s 2021 plan has about $17 million less than the 2020 police budget of $193 million. But Council President Lisa Bender and Council Members Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham aimed to move even more money out of the department, proposing a plan, dubbed “Safety for All,” that took $7.7 million from MPD to put toward several violence prevention measures and other programs administered outside the department. 

Those measures include the expansion of the city’s 311 services in order to take theft and property damage reports, parking complaints, and provide support for homeless people. The “Safety for All” plan also beefs up violence prevention efforts such as the Next Step Program, which connects youth and young-adult victims of violence with resources and support, from job training and housing assistance to education and legal help. 

The budget also sets aside $11 million the police could access after additional council approval: $5 million to cover potential overtime costs in 2021 and more than $6 million for new police recruit classes. 

A focus on the MPD’s authorized size

Given that this year’s budget process was the first after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers — and the subsequent pledge by nine members of the council to begin the process of “dismantling” the city’s police department — it was no surprise that discussion revolved around funding for the MPD. But in the weeks leading up to the council’s final budget meeting, the conflict constricted further, narrowing to a debate about the appropriate number of officers in the department, now and in the future. 

Christine McPherson, the financial director of operations for the Minneapolis Police Department, told the council that MPD currently has 690 officers on the street. That’s a significant drop from the start of the year, when the department counted 874 officers, with most of those who are gone resigning or going on leave following Floyd’s killing and the unrest that followed. 

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In their “Safety for All” plan, Bender, Fletcher and Cunningham initially called for a reduction in the authorized size of the MPD to 750 cops by 2022. But Frey wanted to keep the department’s authorized size at its current level of 888 officers, citing concern that cutting the department’s size could have adverse impacts in the future. 

To that end, he threatened to veto the budget if it passed the council with the plan to reduce the authorized size. “We continue to stand ready to collaborate and support the safety beyond policing initiatives, but I am actively considering a veto due to the massive, permanent cut to officer capacity,” Frey said in a Dec. 7 statement. 

Council member Linea Palmisano
Council member Linea Palmisano
At last week’s budget hearing, Council Member Linea Palmisano introduced an amendment to the “Safety for All” plan that would address Frey’s concern, by keeping the MPD’s authorized level at 888. Palmisano argued that it was better to be flexible with staffing options because it’s impossible to predict public safety needs past the immediate future. “We can’t hamstring the efforts of the chief,” said Palmisano, adding that MPD is in the midst of a “rebuild.”

The amendment passed 7-6, with Council Members Lisa Goodman, Andrew Johnson, Palmisano, Alondra Cano, Kevin Reich, Jamal Osman, and Jenkins all voting in favor. And though Bender mentioned public pressure from Frey, council members who supported the move said they were responding to constituents who say they don’t want the department weakened. “We need to hear from the community instead of speak for the community,” said Jenkins.

After the staffing level amendment passed, the overall budget passed unanimously. On Friday, Frey signed off on the document. 

What it actually means for the Minneapolis Police Department 

A veto threat and a significant revision at the midnight hour might make for plenty of city hall intrigue, but the result of the budget battle will have little impact on the MPD in 2021. In both Frey’s budget and the “Safety for All” plan, there is funding for two new recruiting classes in 2021, said McPherson, MPD’s financial director of operations. That’s on top of the one cadet class already set to graduate in 2021, which means the city could see three waves of new police officers next year. 

That should address some of the departures MPD has experienced in 2020. A typical year sees around 45 officers depart — less than a third of the number who are now effectively out for one reason or another. If attrition levels do return to normal, and all three recruiting classes are completed in 2021, MPD staff would jump from 690 to 768 officers by the end of the year. 

Even if that happened, MPD would still not reach Frey’s goal of 888 police. In fact, even if the city adhered to the most ambitious training schedule, the department would only barely exceed the max staff total the “Safety for All” budget targeted. 

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The higher authorized officer threshold could affect the department’s ability to grow in 2022 and beyond, however. In fact, new recruit classes could increase the force to as many as 890 cops in 2022, according to McPherson. If nothing else, the changes mean the starting point for next year’s budget discussion will be about whether 888 officers — and not 750 — is the appropriate size of the department going forward. 

What does all this mean for efforts to reform the Minneapolis Police Department? 

For leaders of Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block — the two Minneapolis-based advocacy groups who organized the event at Powderhorn Park in June where nine council members said they planned to ‘dismantle’ MPD — the city’s 2021 budget was a victory. “This was a tremendous win,” said Reclaim the Block policy organizer Sheila Nezhad. “It’s the first time in at least 20 years — that’s how far back the online city records go — that the base budget for Minneapolis police has been cut.” 

But that doesn’t mean the groups got everything they wanted. Nezhad said the nearly $8 million in funds diverted from MPD fell short of expectations, and the decision not to cut the number of authorized officers is also a disappointment, adding that she believes a public health approach will do more to reduce crime than hiring beat cops. 

photo of article author
Alondra Cano
Nezhad also said the group was also disappointed that Jenkins and Cano voted for the amendment authorizing the current maximum size of the department. Both council members had joined Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective for the “dismantle” event last summer. “It’s up to Council Members Jenkins and Cano to practice wise policymaking that means looking at root causes and not reacting,” said Nezhad.

Yet many of those who have supported Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo — who has consistently argued that the MPD needs more officers to deal with increased crime in the city — were also happy with the budget. “I fall in the camp of supporting the chief,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. “I think the chief has made a really strong case for the needs of his department.”

But while Weinhagen believes the department should be able to refill its depleted ranks after the 2020 exodus, he also believes city leaders should continue to be engaged in conversations about other ways to provide public safety. “I believe in the both-and approach,” he said. “And those are the absolute right conversations to be having.”