Minneapolis has about 200 fewer police officers available to work as the city tries to rebound from a violent year and prepare for more potential unrest.
In the short term, the city is seeking aid from other law enforcement agencies as it plans for the March trial for former Officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with killing George Floyd.
To build up the ranks in the long term, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is asking the City Council to release $6.4 million to hire additional officers.
"This presents operational challenges for me as chief," Arradondo said of the shortage, details of which were released Thursday, as he made his funding pitch. "We need the stability in the sworn workforce."
In the aftermath of George Floyd's death, rioting that led to the burning of a police precinct station and calls to dismantle the department, Minneapolis police officers began leaving or filing disability claims in unprecedented numbers.
When last year began, the department had 877 officers. This year, it started with 817 — but only about 638 are available to work, according to department statistics.
The city said 24 officers left in January, many taking advantage of an early-retirement incentive offered as the city tries to trim costs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Another 155 were listed on some form of extended leave, including many for PTSD claims.
Robin McPherson, the department's finance director, said it's difficult to predict how many of those officers might return "because we've never had these kind of numbers."
Based on how similar cases have unfolded in the past, McPherson said "there may be a couple [who return], but more than a handful — probably not."
Faced with the shortage, Arradondo reorganized the department last year to focus primarily on responding to 911 calls as violent crimes such as homicides, shootings and robberies escalated.
Some Minneapolis residents have complained they're waiting longer for officers to respond to emergency calls and have formed their own safety patrols out of frustration. A group of North Side residents sued the city, saying it's not adequately staffing the police department.
The Police Department will soon face another challenge. The trial of Chauvin is expected to draw large protests, and many in the city are hoping to avoid another round of rioting.
In his budget proposal, Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, included a $35 million emergency fund that would reimburse law enforcement agencies that help when cities require assistance in an emergency.
On Thursday, Republicans in the Minnesota Senate pitched a counterproposal that would reduce Minneapolis' state aid if the city was not able to cover those costs.
"I think the direction we're moving is much clearer, in that it's Minneapolis' responsibility," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said, adding that he wasn't worried about having adequate security at the trial.
Mayor Jacob Frey's office, in a statement, expressed support for Walz's plan and said there "should be no room for partisanship at such a pivotal moment for our city, region, and state."
Spokesman Mychal Vlatkovich said the mayor and other city leaders have been working with the state on plans to prepare for the trial.
"That planning has taken into consideration current and future staffing levels in the MPD," Vlatkovich said.
While they try to address the immediate security concerns, the Police Department's longer-term fate remains in the balance.
In the past, some City Council members have pushed back on Arradondo's requests for funding, grilling him for more specifics about his plan for the department. On Thursday, they asked questions but the tone remained congenial.
Late last year, as they were finalizing the 2021 budget, City Council members trimmed about $8 million from the police budget, much of which went to violence prevention programs.
The council also created a new $11.4 million Public Safety Staffing Reserve Fund, which holds money for police overtime and many of the chief's desired recruit classes. To get the money, he needs approval from the City Council.
On Thursday, he asked for $6.4 million to begin recruiting additional officers, a process that occurs in waves and often takes close to eight months for each class. If his request is approved, the department predicts it will have 674 officers available to work at the end of the year and 28 additional officers working their way through the hiring process.
After some council members asked the chief about his plans for strengthening background checks for recruits or improving training programs, the committee agreed unanimously to recommend approval of the funding.
Council Member Steve Fletcher noted that during the recent budget cycle city leaders debated whether to set the "target level" of officers at 750 or 888.
"Obviously, these projections don't get us into either of those ranges," Fletcher said, "so I'm comfortable saying that, in the universe we live in now, this is a staffing approach that makes sense."
The final decision will be up to the full council, which meets Feb. 12.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994