The Minneapolis City Council voted Friday morning to take more than $1 million from the Police Department’s expanding budget next year for community-based initiatives to reduce violence.
Under Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed 2019 budget, the city’s police were set to receive $184.5 million, a 2.8 percent increase over this year. The extra money will primarily fund a 3.3 percent salary bump, as well as pensions and other “internal costs,” the department’s finance director, Robin McPherson, said in a presentation this fall.
With Friday’s vote, the budget increase was trimmed to 2.2 percent. While the council’s action was a relatively modest cut, it reflects growing concern over how much money the city spends on police.
The amendment, which passed by a 9-2 vote, would expand the mental health co-responder pilot program to all five police precincts and provide ongoing funds for the new Office of Violence Prevention. It would also boost funding for Project LIFE, a program designed to cut gun violence in parts of the North Side, and two pilot programs run out of the City Attorney’s Office: a diversionary program for defendants with minor weapons charges and the office’s Violent Crime Hot Spots — Domestic Violence outreach initiative.
The Nov. 9 police shooting of a knife-wielding man who was apparently suffering a mental health crisis awakened a fierce debate about the police budget and the size of Minneapolis’ police force.
Citywide, the proposal to cut police funding was met with approval and relief, but also skepticism and concern.
When the conversation at Nu Looks barbershop turned to the possibility of laying off Minneapolis police officers, Eddie Winters admitted that even after some bad run-ins, his first instinct was still to call police if he sees trouble. But he recognizes that others feel differently.
More blacks his age trust law enforcement. He said the younger generation doesn’t feel the same way because they grew up with viral images of police violence against black men and were raised in families hit hard by tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s.
“You’ve got to understand, when I was growing up, cops were out in the community, handing out baseball and football cards,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to that.”
Winters, 35, worried that fewer cops on the streets would leave violence-weary residents in the surrounding Webber-Camden neighborhood with nowhere to turn for help. The answer, he thinks, is better training, not fewer police.
While the police budget has grown by about 17 percent since 2015, Minneapolis still spends less on law enforcement than other similarly sized departments like Pittsburgh and Omaha. With a population of more than 400,000, Minneapolis has about 2.2 officers for every 1,000 citizens, according to a database maintained by Governing magazine. That doesn’t even put the city in the top 30 nationally in officers per capita. The state’s largest law enforcement agency lags behind other Midwest cities, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo.
The department is currently down 38 officers from its allotted strength of 888, with a class of 25 not-yet-street-ready rookies getting set to graduate.
At a public hearing Wednesday, dozens of activists, some holding signs reading, “FUND OUR COMMUNITIES, NOT COPS,” demanded that some police funding be invested in affordable housing, education and mental health care. Several tearfully recounted past abuse at the hands of police.
Other speakers, such as police Lt. Rick Zimmerman, head of the homicide unit, called for recruiting more officers who can relate to people of all backgrounds.
“We’re part of the community, we’re not just a bunch of warriors who just come to work and then go home to the suburbs,” said Zimmerman, a longtime Loring Park resident.
In an interview earlier this week, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said that she is ready to listen to all sides of what she called a nuanced debate. “I absolutely believe that we can’t continue down the same path and expect different results,” she said. “I just think we have to take some critical looks at where our funding for police is going. Is it going for more training? Is it going for more mental health professionals? Is it going for more health and wellness for police officers?”
Still, she added, public safety is the top concern, regardless of how it’s achieved.
“The grandma, Ms. Johnson, that lives on 26th and Knox, she wants more police,” Jenkins said. “She’s really fearful of what’s going on in her neighborhood or what’s happening in her family and when it gets into a domestic violence situation, she wants to be able to call the police — but the thing is that people wanna feel safe about calling the police.”
Instead of hiring more officers, Kandace Montgomery said she thinks that city leaders should invest more in community-based groups already working on crime prevention. She said she favors using face-to-face counseling, intervention and “restorative justice” strategies, like those employed in schools across the country, to help youth peacefully resolve conflicts that might otherwise escalate into violence.
“Increasing the police has never resulted in safer communities, especially when we’re talking about communities that are black and brown, which are often in” more heavily policed neighborhoods, said Montgomery, an organizer with Black Visions Collective, one of the groups calling for city officials to “divest” from the Police Department.
Police backers say that the cuts would strain a department already struggling with understaffing and overtime.
Deputy Police Chief Art Knight said with most of the department’s budget tied to salaries and benefits, the proposed cuts would hurt diversity by forcing the layoffs of dozens of recent hires, many of whom are members of minorities and women, while gutting programs like the Police Athletics League and other initiatives aimed at transforming relations between police and the communities they serve.
On Friday, a police spokesman could not say how the council’s trim from its 2019 proposed budget would affect the department.