Passionate testimony on both sides of the police funding debate flowed from Minneapolis residents during a marathon virtual public hearing on Wednesday.
More than 400 people made 90-second comments during the livestreamed meeting to address whether funding should be reduced or maintained.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo are recommending a $179 million 2021 budget for the Minneapolis Police Department. But three City Council members suggest cutting about $8 million, or about 5%.
The mayor's proposal is the right approach. Minneapolis is experiencing a significant increase in violent crime and needs more, not fewer, officers on the streets. Researchers who studied data from large cities between 1960 and 2010 concluded that every $1 spent on extra policing generates about $1.63 in social benefits, primarily through fewer murders.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued previously, the public clearly understands the need for additional police. Only 40% of Minneapolis residents favored reducing the size of the police force, according to an August Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll. And among Black respondents, about 50% opposed reducing the number of cops.
Frey has proposed a $1.5 billion city budget for 2021 that includes some increases for violence prevention and housing. His police budget would allow for three additional officer recruit classes.
The MPD had 874 officers at the beginning of 2020, though it was authorized for 888. As of early November, it had 834, with 121 on leave. The mayor's plan would maintain the authorized number as a target, making it easier to hire in the future. To address concerns about funding other public safety measures, on Thursday Frey announced that local businesses would contribute $5 million to a fund specifically for police reform.
The proposal from council President Lisa Bender and Public Safety Committee leaders Phillipe Cunningham and Steve Fletcher also would approve three additional recruit classes — leaving the city with a monthly average of 770 working officers in 2021. But their hope is to reduce the authorized force to 750 in coming years.
Their plan would take $8 million from the MPD and spend it instead on violence prevention, a mental health crisis team, a more robust civilian oversight effort and initiatives to have other city departments process property damage and parking violation reports. Again, those are worthy efforts — but they shouldn't be done at the expense of a depleted police force.
There's no doubt major reforms are needed in the department. The many of voices of Black and other residents who testified Wednesday about their fear of police must be heard. Those who called for justice following the police killing of George Floyd last May must not be ignored either. But Arradondo also needs enough officers on the streets.
"This notion that in order to have a more comprehensive public safety strategy you have to do away with one critical element, which is police, is wrong," Frey said this week. "We are hearing from communities right now that they are looking for a 'both-and' approach."
"Both-and" means maintaining an adequately sized police force while also improving recruiting, training, discipline and community outreach.