Minneapolis City Leaders Reduce Police Funding but Leave Door Open for More Hires

In this June 7, 2020, file photo, Alondra Cano, a City Council member, speaks during “The Path Forward” meeting at Powderhorn Park on June 7, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Efforts to defund the Minneapolis Police Department stumbled past another hurdle late Wednesday night when the Minneapolis City Council passed a budget which cut the department’s funding by $7.7 million, but left a window open for the hiring of 140 new officers.

The budget is now on its way to Mayor Jacob Frey. While he had promised to veto the budget as originally proposed, he has not made any statement on whether an amendment doing away with a proposed cap of 750 sworn officers will impact that. His decision on the budget is due next Wednesday.

Frey’s own plan would reduce the police budget from $193 million in 2020 to $179 million in 2021, about 12% of the total $1.5 billion in spending planned for next year. A budget which passed the city’s Budget Committee earlier this week, meanwhile, would have trimmed an additional $7.7 million from the police department while holding $11.4 million in a reserve fund for the department to request cash from as needed.

The council’s proposal would have capped the department’s staffing levels at 750, just 20 officers more than the minimum enshrined in the city’s charter. Frey’s proposal, meanwhile, would have 770 officers on average, and target 888 officers, a total that council president Lisa Bender has called “completely unrealistic.” 

The department currently sits below its minimum at an average of 690 officers on the street. According to Police Chief Medaria Arrodondo, 166 officers have gone on leave, resigned or retired since the beginning of the year.

After a five-hour public hearing, a 7-6 council voted down its original plan before council member Linea Palmisano, one of the three sitting members who opted not to sign on to the council’s June 7th declaration that it would “begin the process of ending” MPD, amended it to remove those caps and place an additional 140 unfunded positions on the table for 2022. 

Palmisano, accompanied by six others who opposed the original budget, then passed it by another 7-6 margin.

The budget’s supporters were apparently blindsided by the move. 

“I don’t know why we’re even doing this. We don’t even have money for 2022. I think it’s just trying to say how pro-law enforcement we are,” council member Cam Gordon said. “What happens in 2022? We’ll be asked why we’re cutting police department funding for positions we couldn’t even fill.”

Even the council’s escalated cuts pale in comparison to the promise of nine councilmembers early in June to dismantle the police department completely. The council’s first proposal, made on the tail end of a week of civil unrest following the arrest and death of George Floyd, died earlier this year after the city’s Charter Commission delayed voting on whether to place it on the ballot. 

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said the council hadn’t followed up on its pledge of a year-long conversation over alternative policing strategies before seeking to implement them. 

“We have not done that. And we need to hear from the community before we speak for the community,” she said.

The hearing featured testimony from hundreds of Minneapolis residents. The balance was about even between those supporting the cuts and those opposed, though many supporters touted activist group Black Visions Collective’s “People’s Budget,” which proposes $53 million in cuts to the department, over the council’s more modest proposal. 

Both the council’s and “People’s Budgets” demand cuts to police responsibility along with the funding drops, diverting some of the department’s duties to social service agencies.

The move comes at a time of elevated crime in Minneapolis, which figured heavily into testimony against the council’s budget proposal. The city has seen 78 homicides this year, up 30 from 2019. 

Local media has also warned of a property-crime wave, which led council members earlier this year to publicly speculate about deliberate slowdowns of police services following the council’s June announcement. 

“Nothing’s being done. There are no cops to respond in the middle of the night, there are no cops to investigate even if we give them the license plate,” Board of Estimate and Taxation member Carol Becker said.

“You’re going to premise all of your changes on the idea that you’re going to implement programs that don’t exist. What do we do in the meantime? What do we do when your programs don’t work? Please, please, don’t cut cops until you know that your programs work.”

Opponents, meanwhile, cast aspersions on the idea that increased funding for police would prevent crimes.

“I have never once felt that their presence made a situation safer,” Amy Fitzgerald, a white resident of the city’s Whittier neighborhood, said. “I’d like to remind our mayor that the comfort and convenience of people like me should not outweigh the safety and lives of our black and brown neighbors. At 179 million, the MPD is a poor investment.”

Frustration with the council was a common thread on both sides, with some police abolitionists shaming their representatives for going back on their June 7 “dismantling” promise and many opponents shaming them for entertaining the idea in the first place.

And in a third camp, Mike Johnson opposed police reform entirely while mocking the council for some of their other efforts at reform.

“People better wake up, because your activists want to abolish prisons next,” he said. “But I gotta hand it to the council, because at least you outlawed menthol cigarettes.”

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