Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo say they believe hiring more police officers will drive down crime and improve community relations.
Now the mayor is facing a new political fight to persuade the City Council to add more officers after a campaign in which several candidates mused publicly about the possibility of a city without police.
Frey and the chief are convinced that police are overtaxed and that it's hurting their relations in the community.
"You can't have a positive relationship if you arrive to a call 30 minutes late and then rush off to another 911 call without ever building a positive rapport," the mayor said.
Frey, who pushed for expanding the city's police force as a council member, sat down with Arradondo recently to discuss budget priorities and raised the possibility of reaching his predecessor Betsy Hodges' four-year goal of growing the department to 901 officers as early as this year.
"We're going to be increasing it from there," said Frey, adding that he wanted to free up officers from having to respond to only 911 calls, instead moving some from patrol cars to foot beats.
The city has 890 officers and another 25 assigned to the Park Police. With 413,600 residents, Minneapolis has an officer-to-population ratio of 2.2 officers per 1,000 citizens — or 10 officers more than it had in 2010, when the city had nearly 30,000 fewer residents, according to Governing magazine. The state's largest law enforcement agency still lags behind other Midwest cities, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo.
In a recent interview, Arradondo said he'd like to raise the department's staffing to 1,000 officers in the "next couple of years," echoing a figure the police union has consistently said was needed to accommodate the city's growth.
"Building relationships at our rec centers, at our senior high-rises, that's what that number does," he said. "It gets us out of that vicious cycle of the only time that our community interacts with our officers is when they're responding to 911 calls."
He said staffing has been short since the early 1990s, when crack cocaine was first hitting the streets, and the city has been playing catch-up ever since. Getting the department to full strength will take months because of the time it takes to train new officers. He didn't address how much it would cost or how the city would pay for it all.
Frey said the city would eclipse Hodges' goal of 900 officers next month with the graduation of a 30-person cadet class, which would help offset a wave of anticipated post-Super Bowl retirements. And last fall, the city received a $1.2 million federal grant to hire 10 more police officers to try to curb rising gun violence.
Some say hiring more officers reflects an outdated way of thinking about crime.
Last year, a coalition of local activists, residents and civil rights groups published a report titled "Enough is Enough," which argued that reducing the number of officers on the street would not only be beneficial to the city's black and Latino youth — some of whom have had bad experiences in past run-ins with the law — but the money saved on salaries could be redirected to finding innovative solutions to stubborn crime problems.
Tony Williams, a local organizer and one of the report's authors, said that city officials started coming around to that idea last year, earmarking $500,000 in crime-fighting funds for neighborhood groups along the W. Broadway corridor and at the Little Earth housing complex in south Minneapolis.
"It's basically giving money to the folks already doing work in the community," said Williams, adding that studies have shown that the number of police officers has little effect on crime rates. "The community already knows what its needs are, so it's a matter of giving them money to do the work."
Phillipe Cunningham is among the fresh faces on the City Council who is skeptical of adding more officers.
"If we're having a mental health crisis, are police the most equipped to handle a mental health crisis? And I think universally, even officers will admit, they are not the best equipped because they don't have a psychology degree," said Cunningham, whose ward is on the North Side. "Not everything needs to be enforced. There are some things that need to be intervened. There are some things that need to be prevented."
The idea of cutting police services became a political issue during the lead-up to the election last fall, when several council and mayoral hopefuls said in a survey that they could envision a police-free future for Minneapolis. Three of the current council members who agreed with that sentiment — Alondra Cano, Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison — now sit on the Public Safety Committee.
Union weighs in
Police Officers Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll welcomed the possible additions to the force, which he said are needed to fight crime and offset retirements.
"This would go a long way in line with where we need to be," said Kroll, who has long argued the city needs at least 1,000 cops. He would like to see an officer-to-citizen ratio on par with Milwaukee, a city of 595,000 with a police force of about 1,880 sworn officers.
He said the city has struggled in recent years to attract talented recruits, particularly minority candidates who are coveted by other area law enforcement agencies. He also blamed some of the drop-off in recruitment and retention to the negative attention brought on by recent high-profile police killings and the resulting fallout, he said.
Council president Lisa Bender on Tuesday said that settling on the right number of officers requires taking a "balanced approach."
"I agree that as we ask more from our officers in terms of relationship building, slowing down and taking more care with each call, we need to support the force with staffing," she wrote on her Facebook page. "We need to think very critically about this and we need to understand how this kind of increase in spending on sworn officers would impact other priorities: violence prevention, affordable housing, investments in our race equity work and more."
She said that adding 100 new officers would cost the city roughly $10 million a year.
More so than some of his predecessors, Arradondo has vowed to seek community input on major issues.
Arradondo, who has said in the past that not every emergency requires a police response, said the department will continue to focus on new initiatives, such as the mental co-responder model — which pairs officers with specialists on emergency calls involving people in the throes of a mental health crisis — and the hiring of community navigators to respond to calls when officers aren't needed.
Frey said the department needs to make restoring public confidence its top priority. But with police already stretched too thin, Frey said that officers only have time to run from call to call.
What they need, the mayor said, is more time to interact with the community.