A political battle is brewing between Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council leaders over $9 million in police pay raises and incentives as the issue heads toward key council hearings next week.

Frey's administration and the police union this month tentatively agreed on a contract that equates to a 21.7% pay raise over three years. The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis overwhelmingly voted to ratify it. Next week, the deal faces the first of what could become multiple public hearings where police supporters and critics are expected to weigh in.

The full council, whose approval is necessary for the contract to take effect, could vote as soon as Thursday but might take up the matter in July. At stake:

  • The city's police force remains understaffed, and police brass and Frey say the historic raises are needed to attract quality recruits, rebuild the ranks and restore public trust. "This is all about being competitive, to retain people in our police force and to be able to attract," Public Safety Commissioner Todd Barnette said Friday in an interview. "In order to do that, we gotta get it through salaries."
  • Advocates for reform and activists critical of traditional policing, including a majority of the council, see this contract — four years after a Minneapolis officer murdered George Floyd — as a critical marker of change. While the contract affords the police chief more latitude in scheduling and other matters, they're skeptical it does enough to improve officer accountability.
  • The city is staring down a $21.6 million budget hole, and as the downtown real estate market craters, middle- and working-class residents could face major property tax hikes. Frey's plan for paying for the raises, which would also need approval from the council, could face challenges because it would take funds from state public safety aid that the council has already appropriated for other uses.

Council conditions?

In a letter to Frey this week, Council President Elliott Payne acknowledged that the council doesn't have the ability to propose changes to the police contract, only to approve or reject it. The letter, which also is signed by Council Vice President Aisha Chughtai, agrees with something Frey and Police Chief Brian O'Hara have said: Many police accountability reforms are best handled outside the collective bargaining agreement.

"To ensure we continue to advance meaningful and effective reforms while fostering community trust, I propose the following policies be considered and implemented before our vote," the letter reads. Those policies include:

  • Figure out how to pay for public safety outside of the one-time state public safety aid.
  • Collaborate with Council Members Robin Wonsley and Jason Chavez — outspoken critics of Frey and the Police Department — to make changes to the Neighborhood Safety department. That department is the target of a lawsuit after some contracts with neighborhood-based crime prevention groups went unpaid.
  • Strengthen policies on the use of coaching. Despite years of denial, Minneapolis police have used a process known as "coaching" instead of discipline to address some instances of serious officer misconduct, a Star Tribune story last month revealed.
  • Give unionized AFSCME workers, who include civilian police employees, a raise.

In an interview Friday, Payne said the proposals don't amount to "conditions" for council approval. "I would object to that," he said. "What I would say is I think there's a path toward support, but a lot of people have concerns."

That's not how Frey sees it. In a response to Payne's letter, Frey described it as "terms you imply must be met and implemented as preconditions for your affirmative vote."

In his response, Frey indicates the first three points are being addressed. As for the reference to AFSCME workers' pay, Frey wrote: "The administration does not pit one bargaining unit against another." He noted that contract negotiations with AFSCME will start soon and include "a necessary pay raise."

How to pay for it

The mayor's plan to pay for the roughly $9 million in raises is to spread the cost over three years — from 2025 through 2027 — in hopes of reducing the immediate property tax impact.

The source of the funding is $19 million in state public safety aid approved by the Legislature for Minneapolis last year. Frey initially wanted $15 million of that money in a package of incentives and bonuses for police, but the council rejected that plan in the fall.

Instead, it appropriated most of the money to programs that focused on nontraditional policing, crime prevention and racial justice-informed public safety.

About $4 million remains available, but the other $5 million needed to fund the police contract could be contentious: Frey proposes covering the difference using money already approved by the council for alternatives.

One example: A council-approved plan for "safety ambassadors" — people who walk the streets providing helpful advice and flagging problems for other responders — in seven cultural districts would be reduced to two districts.