An encouraging and somewhat surprising City Council vote eventually will bolster the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Earlier this month, the council voted unanimously to spend $6.4 million for the MPD to hire more officers. That's noteworthy because a majority of council members have been working to reduce the number of officers, cut MPD funding and assert more power over law enforcement.
Yet even as members continue to work on some much-needed MPD reforms — along with some shortsighted resource proposals — the council showed that it understands the need to bring on more officers as the city experiences more crime.
MPD leaders started the year with 817 officers on the roster — 60 fewer than in 2020. But because of 2021 resignations, retirements and extended leaves, there are now only 638 officers available to work. That's too small a force to meet the needs of a city with more than 400,000 residents.
The ranks are thin because about 200 officers quit or took extended medical leave after George Floyd was killed in MPD custody. That led to demonstrations and rioting and looting, along with calls to defund the Police Department. And while some residents want the department dismantled, others want more officers on the streets because response times have dropped as crime has gone up.
The new class of recruits is expected to boost the force by several dozen. City leaders hope to have 674 cops on duty by the end of the year, with another 28 working through the pipeline to be hired. In addition, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said they'll be examining the backgrounds of the recruits more deeply. The idea is to not just hire more officers, but to make sure they're the right people for the job.
Minneapolis police plan to update job applications to include additional questions about whether applicants have ever lived in Minneapolis and whether they have degrees in criminology, social work, psychology or counseling. And the department will ask whether applicants volunteer, work with young people or participate in programs like the Police Activities League.
Deputy Police Chief Amelia Huffman said MPD hopes the changes "will help us to really feel confident that we are recruiting the kinds of candidates we want right from the beginning." The changes went into effect last week as the city began to post openings for the next class of officers, who will begin work late in the summer.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo implemented several other reforms in the months after Floyd's death. Among them: The MPD banned chokeholds and neck restraints. And it strengthened requirements for officers to intervene if co-workers use excessive force.
Those were important steps that the chief and mayor could take on their own — without the need for council approval or city charter changes. And they must continue to pursue those kinds of reforms — and hopefully gain council support as needed for others — even as some council members continue to try to weaken or dismantle the MPD.