Minneapolis City Council members on Monday gave their first approval to a plan that would move nearly $8 million from the Police Department to other city services — and postpone some staffing decisions until next year.
During a 4 ½-hour meeting Monday, they also agreed to create a new fund that could offset some of those cuts, if the council votes again to approve the release of the money. They also voted to reduce the target number of officers in future years.
Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement late Monday that he was deeply opposed to changing the longer-term staffing plans before the city receives the results of a staffing study due back next year.
“We continue to stand ready to collaborate and support the safety beyond policing initiatives,” he said, “but I am actively considering a veto due to the massive, permanent cut to officer capacity.”
As they debated the details of next year’s budget, council members said they were trying to strike a balance between protecting people from violent crime and fulfilling a promise to transform public safety after George Floyd’s death.
Council Member Jamal Osman said he hears from residents who want to increase mental health services and find alternatives to some police calls. But, he said, some residents said they worry about reducing police overtime and staffing in a violent year.
“How can we come together to make sure we are funding these great programs in a great alternative way, at the same time keeping our community safe?” he asked rhetorically.
The changes, which come up for final approval Wednesday night, are part of the city’s efforts to pass a 2021 budget, its first full one since Floyd died and a majority of council members pledged to work toward ending the Police Department.
As they debated which proposals to add to next year’s budget, the council members discussed a larger question: Should they keep the Police Department relatively intact while building out other city services?
Council Member Alondra Cano said she struggled with one decision, to move community navigators, who connect people with services, out of the department.
“Just from a philosophical perspective, it’s hard for me to agree to remove a portion of the work that the Police Department has been doing to try to create a healthier ecosystem of safety response,” she said. She added later: “If we’re considering taking everything out of MPD that’s not an officer with a gun … I don’t believe in that theory of change.”
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham described the move as an effort to ensure that the city, as a whole, is taking an approach that helps crime victims. He said he was troubled by concerns that some people thought the program would be less effective outside the department.
“I don’t think that’s actually a good way for us to govern,” Cunningham said. “I think that’s a management issue that we would like to be able to hold folks accountable for.”
The city budgeting process kicked off this fall, when Frey unveiled a roughly $1.5 billion spending plan, which included about $179 million for the Police Department. That includes about $10 million for police overtime — some to respond to 911 calls amid an officer shortage and some to prepare for the potential for more unrest surrounding the trials for the officers charged in Floyd’s death.
Three council members — President Lisa Bender and public safety committee leaders Cunningham and Steve Fletcher — unveiled their own proposal late last month. It passed preliminary muster Monday, with some changes.
Voting 11-2, City Council members agreed to move about $7.7 million from the Police Department to other city offices. Among other things, that money will be used to expand violence prevention programs, launch mental health crisis teams, train dispatchers to assess mental health calls and have other city employees handle parking and property damage reports.
About $5.7 million of that money had been earmarked for officer overtime, prompting a lengthier discussion on the council.
Some council members said they worry about handing the Police Department a “blank check” on overtime, while others — such as Linea Palmisano and Lisa Goodman, who voted against that portion of the plan — said they worried that the overtime was essential to ensure the department can respond to 911 calls.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told council members that more than 100 officers are on some form of leave, and that the department logged just under $1 million in overtime in October. The majority of that money, he said, was for work meant to offset the impacts of the officer shortage.
Later in their meeting, council members voted to create a new Public Safety Staffing Reserve Fund, that will hold money the Police Department can access, if council members approve its release in separate votes next year.
That fund would hold about $11.4 million — $5 million of which was taken out of excess in the city’s general fund to cover overtime, and about $6.4 million of which was included in the mayor’s proposal to fund second and third recruit classes.
Goodman said the effort to subject that funding to future votes was “amongst the most insulting things that have come up yet.”
“This is just a question of making the chief come beg to the public safety committee to get the funding he needs for the work he needs to do,” she said.
Fletcher pushed back, saying it’s designed “to create a little bit of accountability.”
Before they wrapped up, council members also narrowly voted to change the “target” staffing levels they would set for future years, starting in 2022.
Frey had hoped to leave those levels closer to 888 — the number of officers initially approved for 2020 — a move designed to make it easier to hire back after a shortage.
Council members voted 7-6 to reduce the authorized strength to 750 officers starting in 2022.
Arradondo had asked them not to do that, saying the department is still trying to understand how many officers might return from leave, how new programs will impact their workload and what a pending staffing study might ultimately recommend.
“One of my concerns that I would urge our council is to not feel comfortable or confident in terms of forecasting, whether that’s me as a chief, or the future chief who’s in this position,” Arradondo said.
All of the proposals that received preliminary approval on Monday must go through a final vote on Wednesday. Some council members indicated they intend to bring forward additional proposals before they take that final vote.
After the council approves a budget, it heads to Frey, who has veto power.