Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo wants to add 400 more patrol officers by 2025, saying they are urgently needed to improve lagging response times while taking pressure off street cops and giving them more time to engage with residents.
In his most forceful comments yet on staffing, Arradondo said the department’s current staffing model has been broken for years and needs to be fixed, calling it a “critical time” for the state’s largest law enforcement agency. The situation, he said, has resulted in “current MPD resources being strained to capacity — and quite frankly we’re hemorrhaging.”
He previously asked to increase the department’s complement of sworn officers from its current 888 to 1,000 over the next several years. Under his latest proposal, the department would grow to at least 1,300 in the next six years.
“We have been operating for so long with this mind-set that 600 patrol [officers] is adequate, and I’m here to tell you it is not,” he told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. “If we continue with the same broken model, my work for transformation change of the MPD … will be at great risk of failing.”
Under the union contract, patrol officers must make up at least 70% of the department’s allotted strength.
Adding 400 patrol officers would mean more cops could get out of their cars and walk foot beats instead of spending their shifts racing from call to call, he said.
Staffing shortages mean slower response times, which chips away at public trust, and increased fatigue among officers, he said. He said that some of the new officers would help fill vacancies on the force, which is losing about 40 officers per year to retirement and attrition.
“If the levels stay the same as they are today, the next chief that comes before you will have a very, very difficult time,” he said.
Heavy workloads take a physical and psychological toll, he added, citing research that says overworked cops are more likely to draw citizen complaints. Earlier this year, the city announced plans to study how many hours officers should work in a week.
In the decade between 2008 and 2017, the number of officers per capita dropped about 15% — a bigger decline than in most large U.S. cities, according to a Star Tribune analysis of recent FBI data.
Still, the chief is likely to face an uphill battle amid heightened scrutiny of law enforcement nationwide. Several council members have already signaled their opposition to adding more officers, instead joining in growing calls for diverting police funding to alternative approaches to fighting crime.
Some of that tension surfaced at Wednesday’s hearing.
In one testy exchange, Council Member Steve Fletcher chastised the chief for including a slide in his presentation that suggested “it is politically popular for us to increase staffing in your department.”
“I am worried that if you continued down that path, it would undermine the community trust in your analysis, and I would not want that to happen,” said Fletcher.
He later grilled Arradondo over whether the figures the chief presented truly reflected department staffing.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents the Fourth Ward, also questioned the wisdom of adding more officers without first addressing broader department culture “so that we’re not just scaling up this toxicity.”
Arradondo said more officers are needed because the department’s workload has increased significantly, as police are increasingly being asked to address issues arising from social conditions like poverty and inadequate housing.
Some calls tend to tie up multiple squads at one scene, sometimes for hours, resulting in longer response times in other parts of the city. Last year alone, officers spent the equivalent of 34 calendar days responding to overdose calls, Arradondo said.
Over a 12-month period dating back to last summer, police counted 1,251 instances in which no squads were available to respond to a Priority 1 call, such as a shooting, domestic assault or a drug overdose.
In an interview following the hearing, public safety Chairwoman Alondra Cano said she has heard from constituents who have to step over discarded needles, business owners whose shops are routinely vandalized and nervous shoppers who feared venturing out at night — all of whom have been calling for a stronger police presence.
“Their business model is more precarious because they’re already in a community that’s shouldering some of these economic inequities,” Cano said of Lake Street corridor business areas, near areas hit hardest by the opioid crisis.
Still, she hesitated to say how many officers the city needs. “More conversation is needed around that, [though] I’m not closing the door on that discussion,” she said.