Mayor Jacob Frey, seated at a table in a room full of people demanding police reform Wednesday night, squeezed a purple squishy ball as he was grilled on his plans to add officers to the Minneapolis Police Department.
A man at the table tried to pin the mayor down on whether he wants to spend $10 million to hire another 100 police officers.
Frey said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s plans for the police department require more police officers, but added that as mayor, he hasn’t settled on a specific number.
“As our population increases, you need more officers,” Frey said. “I’m in favor of increasing the force.”
It was one of the mildest encounters at a public safety forum in north Minneapolis, where frustrations with police and weariness with “community visioning,” as Council Member Alondra Cano put it, boiled over.
Much of the frustration was directed at Frey, who popped back and forth from his table to a spot along the wall next to the TV cameras, as he was confronted over a recent SWAT team action in north Minneapolis, fears of residential displacement, Jamar Clark’s 2015 death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and complaints of police brutality.
About 125 people showed up. Frey, Arradondo, fire Chief John Fruetel, City Attorney Susan Segal, Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel and several council members were present. At tables stocked with stress balls and colored markers, groups of seven or eight were encouraged to come up with recommendations for how to re-imagine public safety in the city, and then report to the larger group.
The biggest applause for an elected official came when Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said the city must root out police brutality.
“The last body of work that is really important to me is weeding out violent officers from the force,” Cunningham said. “It’s necessary to hold our officers to very high standards, because they are given the space to carry guns and to be able to be out in our neighborhoods in that way.”
But as the meeting progressed and the microphone was passed around, it became clear the most pressing issue in the room was opposition to increasing the police force to 1,000, a proposal floated by Arradondo in February.
Former Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of several in the crowd who criticized the idea, stood and demanded that Frey speak to the larger group and explain his position.
“You guys will face opposition in the streets and at City Hall,” Levy-Pounds said. “Stop taking advantage of our time and our passion, and answer our question about 100 police officers.”
Arradondo took the microphone first and said he wants to phase in 100 additional sworn officers “over several years.” He said there are only 550 officers available to respond to 911 calls, which is “not enough,” and if all police officers are doing is responding to 911 calls, then community trust is damaged.
“Everyone wants when they pick up that phone to get a squad car right away,” Arradondo said.
Frey stepped even further away from a specific number.
“This 100 new police officers, it’s not happening next year, it’s not happening the year after that, it’s not happening anytime soon,” he said.
Peter Gamades, the man who had pressed Frey on the question at a small-group discussion earlier in the meeting, said afterward that Frey “walked around the issue.”
“Own up to it,” Gamades said. “If you want to add 100 peace officers, come to the residents and explain it. Be brave, if that’s what you want to do.”
The forum, an official meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee, was intended as a way to bring City Hall to the community. A second forum will be held April 10 at the Sabathani Center in south Minneapolis.