Despite earlier skepticism about bolstering the ranks of the Minneapolis Police Department, City Council members sounded more supportive Thursday of Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposal to add 14 new officers, most of whom would be assigned to neighborhood beats.
At Thursday’s budget committee meeting, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo outlined how the officers would be deployed, saying they would help regain the trust of communities that have strained relationships with police.
Of the 14 positions, eight would be “neighborhood outreach officers” assigned to five different areas of the city, including the North Side, E. Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue. Three investigators would handle sexual assault and domestic violence cases, and three officers would join a revived traffic enforcement unit.
“If those officers are really committed and invested with those business owners, communities, residents, the schools in the areas, we can collaboratively help to try to solve those problems before they become bigger problems,” Arradondo said.
The new positions, among other department requests, would raise the department’s budget for next year by $8.5 million to $193.4 million — about 12% of the total city budget.
While City Council members scrutinized the plan, asking Arradondo questions about what work the officers would be doing, they were also supportive of the neighborhood outreach model. Council Member Phillipe Cunningham suggested one of the officers assigned to the North Side should patrol Penn Avenue, where he said there were “very intense problems” with drug use and gun violence.
Others felt eight neighborhood officers were not enough.
“From where I sit, representing part of downtown and a big portion of the city that’s seeing increases in crime, I think these neighborhood outreach officers are a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed at this point in time,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said. “I can probably find some things suggested in the budget that we could move from other areas into hiring 24 neighborhood outreach officers.”
Council Member Linea Palmisano agreed and said after the meeting that she would like to see 20 to 30 new officers join the department.
Council Member Abdi Warsame said that across the city there has been an increase in the “perception of crime.” He said he was happy that officers would come to two areas of his ward — Cedar-Riverside and the area of Chicago and Franklin avenues — where shootings, homicides, drug trafficking and “brazen behavior” have frightened residents and business owners. But he wants more.
“I think we need to be real about what’s happening in our city,” he said. “The perception of violence has increased, the fear has increased, people are afraid. I think we need to support our police.”
Council President Lisa Bender, who has been critical of adding more officers, said the council was holding the police department to the same level of scrutiny as other city departments. She had “significant concerns” with reviving the traffic unit, saying adding officers would not improve unsafe roads, and that the enforcement could also lead to racial profiling of drivers — a concern also shared by Cunningham.
“We know from experience in our city but across the country that it’s very difficult to police your way out of traffic safety problems when your roads are designed for speeding,” Bender said. “Adding three traffic officers to enforce unsafe roads, I think there are a lot of questions about the effectiveness of that budget investment vs. investing in safer streets.”
Department budget presentations to the City Council will continue through October.