Minneapolis officials plan to bring in outside law enforcement officers to help amid a shortage — but the new teams might not form in the way initially expected.
A divided City Council on Friday approved nearly $500,000 to contract with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Metro Transit police for extra officers. Together, they would work on joint enforcement teams responding to 911 calls or targeting hot spots for violence around the city.
But Metro Transit police “do not have capacity to provide additional resources to the Minneapolis Police Department,” according to a statement from Terri Dresen, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Council. Dresen said Metro Transit police will continue to work with Minneapolis in other ways.
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said he is open to providing help for Minneapolis, but he said logistics need to be sorted out first, such as the hours the officers would work and the reimbursement rates.
“We have to have some sort of agreement. There’s so much stuff to happen before we can commit,” he said. “But, again, I’m open to helping anybody within the county, any agency that needs help.”
It’s been a tumultuous year for the Minneapolis Police Department, with some people pushing to abolish it after George Floyd’s death and others asking for more officers amid a wave of violent crime and a staffing shortage. About 500 people have been wounded by gunfire this year, and more than 70 have been killed.
John Elder, a spokesman for Minneapolis police, said their agency is sympathetic to the staffing concerns at the Metro Transit Police Department.
“We understand and respect their bandwidth, and we want to make sure that they don’t overcommit and that we support them in all of their initiatives, which are great,” Elder said.
He said Minneapolis police will try to form the teams and could look to a different agency to join the mix.
“There are so many law enforcement agencies that are willing to support us and the fine residents of Minneapolis, businesses and visitors,” Elder said. “There is such a strong push for public safety through law enforcement that we welcome all of these different options and we thank the council for their affirmative vote in making our community safe.”
The teams are not a new concept. The city used them in 2014 to try to stop a wave of violent crime on the North Side.
Law enforcement agencies in the region stay in regular contact, and they had been increasing their efforts to coordinate in recent months as they prepared for the potential for more unrest. Throughout those conversations, Hutchinson said he was asked if he’d be open to talking about assisting Minneapolis.
“I, personally, said, ‘Yes, we’ll help them when the time is right and we can get our resources in order,’ ” Hutchinson said.
Logistical discussions are expected to accelerate now that the council has signed off on the funding. Hutchinson estimated it could take a couple of weeks to sort out the details.
Like other agencies, the Sheriff’s Office is bracing for the potential for budget cuts amid the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The office has about 800 employees, roughly 225 of whom are licensed peace officers who could be candidates for the joint enforcement teams. Many of those officers are currently assigned to essential duties, such as guarding the courthouse.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told council members earlier this week that he would like to bring in 20 to 40 officers to assist amid a staffing shortage. About 40 police officers have left the department since the beginning of the year, and another 121 were on some form of leave, as of the beginning of the week.
Once considered a routine request, the proposal to ask other agencies for help prompted a tense discussion at City Hall and in the community.
Some residents begged council members to support the extra officers, saying they’re scared to go out at night amid the carjackings, gunfire and robberies. Some activists, who have been pushing for cuts to the department, urged council members to block it, saying they felt the money would be better used on housing and financial assistance.
The council approved the plan in a narrow 7-6 vote, and it now heads to Mayor Jacob Frey, who is expected to sign it. Frey said in a statement that he sees this as “a clear signal” that they will support the police chief while working to transform public safety.
Voting in favor of the proposal were Council Members Kevin Reich, Jamal Osman, Lisa Goodman, Alondra Cano, Andrew Johnson, Linea Palmisano and Andrea Jenkins.
Voting against it were Steve Fletcher, Jeremiah Ellison, Cam Gordon, Phillipe Cunningham, Lisa Bender and Jeremy Schroeder.