A two-year battle over Minneapolis police staffing levels came to an end Monday after a judge dismissed the case at the request of the city and eight North Side residents who sued.

"We consider this a victory," said Doug Seaton, president of the Upper Midwest Law Center, which represented the group that sued Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council in the summer of 2020, alleging they allowed police staffing rates to fall too low.

Seaton said the residents asked for the dismissal in part because they were buoyed by recent court rulings that swung in their favor and in part because they were encouraged by a budget proposal Frey unveiled this summer.

The city deferred to the residents' attorneys for questions on the timing of the dismissal but appeared to welcome it, joining them in a request asking Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson to close the case. Anderson signed the order dismissing it on Monday morning.

The lawsuit drew renewed attention to Minneapolis' decades-old minimum staffing requirements for police, which have featured prominently in debates about how city leaders should seek to fulfill a promise to transform public safety in response to George Floyd's murder. While residents who brought the lawsuit wanted the city to meet the quota, others have argued it should be eliminated.

The lawsuit influenced city budget debates, contract negotiations with the police union and Minneapolis political races. Last November, voters rejected a proposal that would have eliminated those requirements and allowed officials to replace the Police Department with a new agency.

A decades-old requirement

The quotas date to the 1960s when voters — amid another debate over crime and police staffing — approved a ballot question asking whether "to increase the Police Force by establishing a ratio of 1.7 employees per 1,000 residents." That would amount to 731 officers today, based on the latest census data.

For years, Minneapolis employed far more than the minimum number of police officers, logging about 900 at the time of Floyd's murder. The Police Department experienced an unprecedented wave of resignations and claims for post-traumatic stress disorder in the months that followed.

Eight North Side residents sued the city in the summer of 2020 arguing they had suffered from an increase in violent crime while the city let its police staffing numbers dwindle. The lawsuit was filed by Cathy Spann, Aimee Lundberg, Jonathan Lundberg, Julie Oden, Audua Pugh, Georgianna Yantos and Sondra and Don Samuels.

Throughout a series of court hearings, including arguments before the Minnesota Supreme Court, attorneys debated whether Minneapolis officials had an obligation to employ the minimum number of officers or simply include enough funding for that many positions in the city's budget.

The Supreme Court ruled that City Council members had fulfilled their responsibilities by including funding in the budget, but Frey had an obligation to ensure the minimum number of officers were employed.

The dismissal came seven weeks before a court hearing at which the city would have been expected to show whether Frey had demonstrated good cause for falling below the minimum staffing levels. According to city statistics, Minneapolis had 602 officers on the payroll as of mid-September, including 37 who were on a continuous leave lasting nearly two weeks or longer.

Budget negotiations ahead

Seaton said his clients agreed to dismiss the lawsuit because they felt the Supreme Court ruling had provided crucial clarity on how to interpret the staffing requirements outlined in the city charter and because they were encouraged by Frey's latest budget proposal.

The mayor's $3.3 billion budget proposal for 2023 and 2024 includes roughly $400 million for the Minneapolis Police Department. That includes money to run an internship program for high school students interested in law enforcement careers and to run recruit classes as they attempt to build the force up to 783 officers in 2024 and more in future years.

Frey will need to negotiate next year's spending plan with the City Council, a process that is expected to wrap in December.

"My position to rebuild MPD ranks, it's been consistent," Frey said. "That was true before the suit was brought, and remains the case today."

Seaton said his clients know it will not be easy for the city to reach the required number of officers. He left open the possibility they could take additional court action in the future, if they don't feel officials are taking adequate steps to comply with the charter.

For now, he said: "We did not want to have the case hanging on and hanging on, as though it were a threat. We want to proceed in good faith. The mayor acted in good faith. We wanted to do the same thing."