North Minneapolis residents who prevailed in a police staffing lawsuit gathered in a backyard in the Jordan neighborhood on Friday to discuss their win.
They also lamented losing good neighbors who have fled the city in the midst of violence. "We have neighbors who are gone. These are neighbors who were paying taxes, who were doing block club meetings, engaged," said Cathy Spann, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council. "Black businesses are suffering. … This is a life-or-death issue for us."
Spann and her co-plaintiffs hope a judge's ruling on Thursday will provide a sense of stability by forcing the city to "immediately take any and all necessary action" to comply with a provision in the city charter that requires Minneapolis to have at least 730 police officers — a number based on the city's population.
That court ruling — and an influx of federal pandemic aid — are adding a new wrinkle to the debate over how many police officers Minneapolis should employ as it seeks to transform public safety in the wake of George Floyd's death. It's too early to tell whether the plaintiffs' victory will be fleeting or long-lasting.
The city could appeal. And an election looms in November, when a new class of leaders will be elected and voters will decide whether to replace the Police Department with a new agency.
Spann and fellow residents sued the mayor and City Council in August, arguing they weren't fulfilling their obligation to ensure that the city has a minimum number of officers based on its population. Their neighborhoods were suffering the impacts of crime, they claimed.
Friday, plaintiff Georgianna Yanto recounted an incident last summer when a group of young people dashed across her property with guns, chasing down another young man whom they killed down the street.
"As this keeps unfolding, your safety is impinged and you wonder, 'Where's the courage to continue to be here?' "
While some local activists were pushing city leaders to abolish the city's Police Department — or cut tens of millions of dollars in its funding — the group of plaintiffs wanted the opposite.
On Thursday, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson handed them a victory.
It's too early to tell precisely how the city will respond.
The City Attorney's Office would say on Friday only that it continues to review the judge's ruling. Elected leaders, who have at times taken diverging stances on police officer staffing, haven't announced whether they will appeal — or who will make that final decision.
"Obviously, of course, there will be conversations between the City Attorney's Office, my office and the City Council," Mayor Jacob Frey said Friday afternoon.
If they decide to accept the judge's ruling, city leaders will need to find a way to quickly build up their ranks or risk operating below the minimum number of 730 officers, a target number that could rise if new census results show the city's population has grown.
The city's 2022 projections, included in court filings, show that amid an unprecedented number of PTSD claims and other resignations, Minneapolis officials expect to have 649 officers in January, 637 in April, and 721 in January of 2023.
In past public meetings, Police Department officials have noted that it often takes months to put new officers on the streets because of the lengthy training process.
The judge has given the city until June 30, 2022, to comply with the order "or show cause before this Court why the Respondents have not done so."
Funding in flux
In recent weeks, before the judge's ruling, there have been signs that some council members who previously voted to move police funding to other services were willing to consider increasing the department's funding once again.
The Minneapolis Police Department, which last year was slated to have a $193 million budget, began this year with a budget that had been trimmed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts by some council members who wanted to redirect its money to other services.
When they settled on last year's budget, though, council members created a new reserve fund that held $11.4 million the department could access with their approval.
With that money since released to the department, and an additional $4.6 million in American Rescue Plan funding approved for MPD on Friday, the department is now on track to have a nearly $177 million budget for this year, according to the city's finance office.
Frey, who proposed using Rescue Plan dollars to increase police funding, said they hope to use the money to contract with outside agencies to help amid the shortage, to provide overtime for officers who do violence prevention work, and to boost a community service officer program that often serves as a recruiting tool.
"We're trying to offset the attrition we've experienced in the interim, before we bring on additional recruiting classes," Frey said in an interview this week. "Throughout the last year, [council members have] made their intentions to cut very clear, whether it was the sworn capacity or through the budget itself. My position, and the recommendations here, reflect a both-and approach."
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, the only person to vote against the plan, raised concerns Friday about the public safety portions of the American Rescue Plan proposal.
"We seem to be kind of doubling down on this old school model that got us to where we are now," Ellison said, adding that he thought it was important "to question whether or not the city is OK with that."
Council President Lisa Bender, who last year voted to move more than $8 million from the Police Department to other services, voted in favor of the Rescue Plan proposal.
In an interview, she said she shared Ellison's concerns about police funding, and particularly the possibility of contracting with other agencies, but was encouraged by the increased investments in violence prevention programs. The plan also includes an additional $3.5 million for the city's Office of Violence Prevention, bringing its total budget for the year up to $12.7 million. Other portions of the plan boost funding for housing and food security programs and cover the launch of a new guaranteed income pilot program.
"That's where I have my focus, is making sure that we're continuing the work to build up those systems of safety," Bender said. "I was happy to see a bigger investment in violence prevention than we've seen from the mayor in the past, and I think we're starting to see a shift."
In the coming months, the city's elected leaders will have to decide how to spend the remaining $169 million in Rescue Plan funding. They'll set a new budget for 2022. And they'll await guidance from the city attorney on how to react to the ruling in the North Side residents' lawsuit.
The plaintiffs will be closely watching.
Michael Pugh, husband of plaintiff Audua Pugh, said last summer he also advocated abolishing the police. He calls himself an "old-school street guy" who never liked them, so when George Floyd was murdered, he believed it was time for an institution that evolved from slave catchers to end.
"But just like we're not in 1863 anymore … we have to evolve our thinking," Pugh said. "The feeling that I get, sitting in my home, is that we're living in a large experiment, like everybody's looking at what's going to happen to us with the next move."