Two years after George Floyd's murder, the Minneapolis Police Department now has more money to spend than it did before his death set off a global movement re-examining policing.
When city officials earlier this spring signed off on a plan to divvy out American Rescue Plan funding, they gave additional money to MPD, leaving it with a roughly $196 million budget. That's about $3 million more than the department had budgeted at the beginning of 2020.
Yet the department today has about 260 fewer officers, and questions remain about whether it can spend all the money it has. Last year, the Police Department spent just shy of $170 million, even though it was authorized at times for closer to $180 million.
To those most familiar with the Police Department's finances, these figures underscore the complexities of the "defund" the police movement that came into the national lexicon after Floyd's killing. Years later, Robin McPherson, the department's finance director, continues to hear from critics who argue the city needs to "add back what was cut."
"Really, it didn't happen," McPherson said. "I wish people would understand that, because that's not what the issue is. The issue is not what's being budgeted for police officers. The issue is we're trying to hire. We've lost so many people, we're trying to hire to offset that attrition. And that's really the big part of the story."
Days after Floyd's murder, nine City Council members pledged to "begin the process of ending" the Minneapolis Police Department and create "a new, transformative model for cultivating safety." The words "defund police" were spelled out in front of the stage where they gathered in Powderhorn Park.
As the coronavirus pandemic squeezed city coffers and calls mounted to reimagine public safety, elected officials trimmed millions from the police budget and then gradually added it back until, earlier this year, they surpassed previous amounts.
At the same time, police officers began leaving in unprecedented numbers. Many filed claims for post-traumatic stress disorder. Some left for other jobs with higher pay, smaller workloads and more stability. The department had 886 officers at the beginning of 2020; it had 626 at the beginning of last month, according to city statistics.
The factors that lifted MPD's budget
The city's budget and finance experts say a number of factors allowed the Police Department's budget to grow, even as the size of the force declined.
Regardless of how many officers were actually employed, city officials said they always budgeted for an average of 756 to 770 police officers. That's because the city's charter says officials must fund a police force with a minimum number of officers based on population.
"We are always budgeting with an eye toward what our legal requirements are," said Amelia Cruver, the city's budget director. "We're funding the number of officers, as required."
Some costs within the department have risen. A new union contract approved earlier this year included raises and retention bonuses for officers who stay on the force. While the department paid about $3.2 million in workers' compensation for each of the last two years, it's set aside about $10 million for those claims this year. The city is also requiring the department to pay more into the self insurance fund, which covers a wide variety of legal and other claims. That figure rose from $6.9 million in 2020 to $10.7 million this year.
Despite those increases, the city's data show the Police Department spent about $169.6 million last year, even though it was at times authorized for about $180 million. As the number of officers declined, the amount the Police Department spent on salaries and wages fell, dropping from about $104 million in 2020 to about $92 million in 2021.
Interim City Attorney Peter Ginder wrote that the city's 2021 budget was initially proposed in the summer of 2020 "before the MPD began to see a historic number of officers leaving the department."
"The Mayor and Police Department leadership are exercising their discretion to do their level best to bring the number of community-oriented police officers back up to that set forth in the Charter," Ginder said.
The city wrote in court documents that it contacted 790 officer prospects, but "recruitment has been difficult."
"The issue facing Minneapolis is that there are simply not enough qualified applicants to fill these fully funded positions," Ginder said. He said the mayor and other city officials "have been aggressively recruiting new officers and have efforts underway to continue and expand upon the work."
How should the city spend the money?
Some local activists say these figures underscore their belief the city should be doing more to expand safety programs that rely on civilians to complement the work police do.
"I think it's outlandish, frankly, because we should be doing what we said we're going to do, which is moving toward a multi-layered approach toward public safety and instead we are just funding more money into an approach that hasn't worked," said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, who served on a workgroup that gave recommendations to the mayor.
James Dickey, an attorney representing eight North Side residents who sued the city over its police staffing levels, said it raises questions about whether city officials — and specifically Mayor Jacob Frey — are doing enough to try to bring the police force back up to the minimum levels.
"Having the money in the budget is one thing," Dickey said. "If you don't spend the money and you're below the minimum requirement, then who's the one who's really doing the defunding?"