In the coming weeks, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey will face what could be the trickiest political maneuver of his first term: hiring more police officers.
As he drafts his budget, Frey risks rebuking the police chief — an important political ally — or alienating already-skeptical City Council members who have the power to reject his request.
Chief Medaria Arradondo reopened the divisive topic of police staffing this month when he told reporters he needed 400 additional patrol officers by 2025 — a whopping 45% increase from today's total force.
The politics of policing is delicate in Minneapolis, made more so this year after the largest police-misconduct payout in Minnesota history. While downtown groups call for more officers to curb the latest spike in street violence, others say public safety must be addressed through a holistic approach that incorporates better funding for programs like affordable housing, drug treatment and youth-violence intervention.
As reports of Arradondo's request spread throughout City Hall, council members were quick to set the tone for a fight ahead. Council President Lisa Bender said on Twitter the city couldn't afford the cost per officer, nor the "settlements for police violence" that would follow. "I'm concerned that at this point both the mayor and the chief are approaching this from a highly political lens," she said in an interview.
Council Member Andrew Johnson wrote a blog post questioning whether the department could be more efficient by assigning solo officers rather than pairs to most calls. Council Member Cam Gordon wrote his own critical post, reviving the idea of changing the city charter to give the council more power over the police department.
In an interview, Frey confirmed he plans to ask for more officers, though he wouldn't commit to a specific figure, saying only that "there's a lot of numbers in between" 400 and zero. "There are budgetary limitations on adding 400 — I agree," said Frey. "Those same limitations do not exist when we're talking about five or 10 or 15."
But he won't accept zero, he said. If his colleagues want to fight him on any increase, "That is absolutely unreasonable," he said. "We have people calling 911 with emergencies that are in desperate need of help and nobody is able to show up because they're busy. These are just the facts. We can't ignore data and facts. Period."
Mayor vs. Council
Since his campaign, Frey has identified policing as a priority, vowing to change the culture of the department while mending discord between officers and community members.
Arradondo has been a key partner in achieving that goal — he is a chief widely respected by rank-and-file officers, as well as politicians and residents. Arradondo stood by Frey this spring when the mayor called for a prohibition on "warrior" training in his State of the City address, a move that riled the police union. In the same speech, Frey said it was necessary to give Arradondo the resources to "realize his vision" for the department. Some council members left the event wondering aloud if Frey was telegraphing a controversial budget request.
Arradondo appeared before the council's public safety committee on July 17, three months later, to make the case. "If we continue with the same broken model, my work for transformational change of the MPD … will be at great risk of failing," Arradondo told them, a provocative remark for a leader known for his diplomatic approach. He said police counted 1,251 instances in which no squads were immediately available to respond to the most serious 911 calls in a 12-month span.
The city subsequently released data showing that happened much more frequently: 6,776 times in a year.
Bender said she was disappointed by Arradondo's presentation, calling it a departure to the council's multifaceted strategy to public safety in recent years. Adding 400 officers would cost about $45 million per year, plus millions more in first-year fees, a cost she said would make the police budget disproportionately larger than other departments. She's undecided on whether any more officers are necessary and said many of her council colleagues share her deep skepticism as budget season approaches.
"I think it's evidence that the mayor isn't collaborating with council leadership and most of the City Council in the way that he promised to," she said.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents part of north Minneapolis, questioned after Arradondo's presentation whether adding more police would only scale up cultural problems in the department, rather than help the chief transform them.
Council Member Steve Fletcher said he's not sure whether more police are necessary. He cited a recent shooting at Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar in downtown Minneapolis as an example of how addressing crime is more complicated than merely adding officers.
"I would challenge anybody to answer how a higher level of police staffing could have stopped the shooting at Crave," said Fletcher. "Are we going to have police at every restaurant checking everybody?"
Search for common ground
Not all council members are opposed to adding more police.
"I support our chief in achieving his vision," said Council Member Linea Palmisano. "Not giving him the resources to fully implement that change is a disservice to him and a disservice to the residents of Minneapolis."
Frey rejected accusations that he is politicizing the police department, saying he's been consistent about increasing staffing since before he took office.
"I've talked about it on the dais, I've talked about it in the media," he said. "Look at the facts."
Frey said police aren't the only way to address public safety but adding staff will be key as the city's population grows. Despite the vocal criticism, Frey said he's optimistic he can still find a compromise with the City Council as he heads into budget season. His spokesman, Mychal Vlatkovich, said Frey reached out to all 13 council members months ago on the budget, and he's "hopeful that [Bender] will take him up on his offer to sit down and discuss the budget directly."
Bender said she's meeting with Frey this week. Arradondo is also scheduled to give a presentation to council members Wednesday on "vision and culture change" within the police department.
Frey plans to introduce his budget proposal Aug. 15.