Minneapolis is poised to cut $1.5 million from the city’s Police Department — and elected officials are promising more substantial changes in the coming months.
The City Council approved the changes Friday morning when they signed off on a larger effort to reduce the city’s $1.6 billion budget to deal with financial losses from the coronavirus pandemic. While the cuts amounted to less than 1% of the Police Department’s budget, the bulk of the money will be shifted to pay for trained civilians who work with families, crime victims and others to interrupt the cycle of violence.
Mayor Jacob Frey said he will approve the cuts to this year’s spending and that he plans to unveil larger changes next month. “The 2021 budget is the appropriate budget for deeper structural change, and that will be the direction for the budget I propose,” Frey said. “It will include a well-thought-out vision for MPD.”
Meanwhile, plans to reshape the city’s approach to public safety after the police killing of George Floyd are moving forward on several fronts.
Some City Council members are pushing a plan that would end the requirement to maintain a Police Department and instead have a wider community safety department — which could employ police officers but wouldn’t be required to do so. Frey has blasted that idea, saying it’s too vague.
The Charter Commission, meanwhile, is considering a plan that would keep a Police Department — but eliminate the requirement to maintain a specific force size based the city’s population.
As the city’s leaders move forward, they’ll have to balance conflicting messages from residents, with some saying change isn’t happening quickly or drastically enough and others urging them to move more slowly.
They also have to figure out how to support a police force whose members are increasingly frustrated with City Hall as they respond to a deluge of calls during an abnormally violent summer.
John Elder, a spokesman for the Police Department, said they are still trying to understand the impact of the cuts.
“Everything’s on the table,” Elder said. “We have core responsibilities as a law enforcement agency, and our responsibility is to meet those necessities.”
The funding for Elder’s own job got transferred out of the Police Department and into the city’s main communications office after the council voted 9-3 to approve the move.
A spokesman for Frey’s office said they do not believe the cuts will impact 911 service.
That vision is still under development, he said.
The cuts represent a small portion of a larger effort to balance the city books, primarily by relying on cash reserves, furloughs and, potentially, some layoffs.
When they approved the 2020 budget last fall, the city’s elected leaders included $193 million for the Minneapolis Police Department. The city estimates it will save about $8.6 million as a result of a citywide hiring and wage freeze implemented earlier this year to offset the effects of the pandemic.
The budget approved Friday by the City Council calls for transferring $1.1 million from an MPD fund that is used for salaries to the Office of Violence Prevention for a program called Cure Violence.
When shootings happen, trained workers go out in the community and to the hospitals “to cool down emotions and prevent retaliations — working with the victims, friends and family of the victim, and anyone else who is connected with the event,” Sasha Cotton, director of the Office of Violence Prevention, said in a statement this week.
The workers try to stay in touch with the parties, sometimes for months, and track big changes like arrests and releases from prison, in hopes of mediating potential conflicts before they escalate into violence again, Cotton said.
In addition to that change, money will also be taken out of the Police Department to fund programs helping people with HIV and AIDS and to promote “healthy living” in low-income housing, among other efforts. In some cases, the precise sources of those cuts are unclear, leaving them up to the discretion of the police chief.
The cuts fell far short of the $45 million some activists sought. The divisions in the community over the scope of changes have played out on the council as well.
Linea Palmisano, chairwoman of the budget committee, repeatedly urged her colleagues to be precise in their proposals so they could evaluate the full trade-offs of any cuts or transfers.
Council Member Steve Fletcher said he feared the repercussions of not acting quickly.
“As a city, we have been oriented toward doing change in a way that is extremely cautious. We weigh the costs of unintended consequences of changes extremely heavily in our calculations,” Fletcher said. “We weigh the costs of unintended consequences of sitting still extremely lightly in our calculations.”
In some areas, the council has been able to find common ground. Members agreed to set aside $100,000 to begin planning a memorial for Floyd. They approved a separate measure to begin transferring some theft calls to the city’s 311 department. That department already takes about 4,600 police reports each year, for issues ranging from car break-ins to stolen credit cards or lost property, according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
The council and Frey also committed to soliciting a year of public feedback on what the future of public safety should look like in Minneapolis. They were scheduled to receive an outline for those plans on Friday, the same day the council approved the cuts. That presentation was postponed to Aug. 6.