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How the Minneapolis City Council stopped a mayoral effort to get $15 million in police incentives 

During the special meeting called by Mayor Jacob Frey, council members questioned the mayor’s hasty effort to push the plan through.

Members of the Minneapolis City Council
Members of the Minneapolis City Council
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

The Minneapolis City Council on Friday voted down an effort by Mayor Jacob Frey to use more than $15 million on recruitment and retention incentives in exchange for reforms to the bidding process for open shifts.

During the special meeting called by the mayor, Frey and Minneapolis Police Department Chief Brian O’Hara argued the need for the funds to help replenish the city’s perpetually short-staffed department, which is down to about half of its authorized size. But despite the letter of agreement for the funds between Frey and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis amid negotiations toward a new contract, council members questioned the mayor’s hasty effort to push the plan through, the effectiveness of the incentives and how the expenditure could hurt bargaining with the union giving less of an incentive to negotiate.

The $15.3 million initiative — funded by $19 million in one-time public safety money allocated to the city by the Minnesota Legislature this past session — would give $15,000 apiece to new officers over three years to entice recruits and $18,000 to existing officers over two and a half years to retain them. City staff told council members that the amounts were similar to bonuses offered by other police departments in the Twin Cities metro, and the incentives would help MPD be more competitive in recruiting and retaining officers.

“By aligning our incentives with industry standards, we are demonstrating our commitment to valuing and investing in our police force,” said Nikki Odom, the city’s chief human resources officer. “Offering competitive incentives not only attracts new talent but boosts morale among existing employees.”

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The city has seen an exodus in officers since the 2020 murder and ensuing unrest of George Floyd by then-MPD officer Derek Chauvin. The department — which has a current vacancy rate of nearly 40% — has lost more than 500 employees since 2020 due to resignations, retirements and disability leaves.

In exchange for the incentives, the union agreed to give O’Hara more authority in assigning officers to vacant shifts, which would shorten the shift bidding process from 28 days to 10. After 10 days, the chief can step in and assign the vacant shifts to officers, which city and MPD officials claim will help improve concerns from residents about coverage and response times.

Frey told council members that while the incentives aren’t the only strategy the city is employing, they are an important piece of solving MPD’s staffing woes.

“We need to attempt every available option at this point to recruit and retain police officers,” the mayor said. “We have fewer officers per capita than almost any major city in the entire country, and the impacts of those losses are felt by our residents every single day.”

Before the vote, Ward 4 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw was moved to tears recounting constituents relaying their trouble in getting officers to patrol “hot spots” in their neighborhoods.

“I do not believe that retention and recruitment is the end but it feels good to know you’re trying everything,” Vetaw said through tears. “I want to be able to say to those parents ‘I’m trying everything.’”

A council majority disagrees

Ward 1 Council Member Elliott Payne kicked off discussion about the proposal invoking the ongoing negotiations between the city and the police union. While encouraged by the desire to fix shift bidding, Payne said addressing one issue at a time in this way could hurt efforts to gain more reforms within the new contract. He expressed concern over what appeared to be the exchange of funding for reforms, which could prompt a potential pattern that the city would need to use additional taxpayer funds in order for MPD to even engage with proposed reforms.

“The moment that we start peeling off one reform here for a little bit of money there, not only are we losing sight of that comprehensive vision of the future of public safety in our city, but just from a brass-tacks negotiation strategy we’re giving away all of our leverage,” Payne said. “What other reforms are we going to get and how much money are we going to have to put on the table to get it?”

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Council members also took issue with the process of how the proposal came before them on Friday. Frey announced the letter of agreement a week before, and when the council budget committee voted against adding the proposal to the regular agenda, the mayor called the special meeting for Friday.

“When he came to us last week with a plan to walk on this letter of agreement that is before us today, outside the normal budget process, we were stunned,” Ward 11 Council Member and Budget Committee Chair Emily Koski said.

In recent months Koski and other council members asked Frey to work with them on how to spend the $19 million in state funds but that request was ignored.

“The mayor has given no indication in the last six months that he was willing to collaborate.”

Koski said there has been no evidence that retention and sign-on bonuses have worked, and that the mayor’s administration is using low staffing levels to get the proposal approved without council scrutiny.

“I believe it’s an effort to politicize public safety to scare us,” she said. “To be clear, I will not bow to fear or manipulation tactics and make a decision outside our normal process on a plan we have repeatedly tried ourselves and has not been effective.”

Ward 5 Council Member Jeremiah Ellison echoed Koski’s concerns about the lack of collaboration. While he said his constituents wouldn’t be opposed to spending money on retention and recruitment bonuses, using almost all of the state funding on this one proposal would be a “huge mistake,” he said.

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“We’ve got $19 million from the state to spend on a menu of potential public safety investments,” Ellison said. “If there’s room for us to actually work with one another and get to whatever could be a potential ‘yes’ here then I invite that process, but this process has not been it.”

The council voted down the proposal 8-5, with Council Members Payne, Koski, Ellison, Robin Wonsley (Ward 2), Jamal Osman (Ward 6), Jason Chavez (Ward 9), Aisha Chughtai (Ward 10) and Andrew Johnson (Ward 12) voting against.

Negotiations between the city and the union, which began in September, are ongoing.