To patrol a smoldering city in the two weeks after George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis shelled out more than $3.3 million in police overtime costs — about 37 times more than normal, pushing the department past its annual budget.
The state’s largest police force tapped 822 of its 855 sworn officers to pull extended shifts during that pay period starting the week of May 25, when the department averaged more than 3,600 overtime hours per day, according to a Star Tribune analysis of payroll data.
“It was all hands on deck,” police spokesman John Elder said of the riots that engulfed south Minneapolis in May. “We had people working 18 and 20 hours a day.”
A bystander video of Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked days of civil unrest, looting and arson on Lake Street, culminating on the third night with the destruction of the Third Precinct.
Amid the chaos, police struggled to find the manpower required to restore order in a city consumed by rage and grief. Department brass relied heavily on overtime to maintain adequate staffing levels as 911 calls surged.
Chief Medaria Arradondo worked round-the-clock monitoring the situation while his officers worked the streets throughout the night, Elder said, noting that Arradondo kept Mayor Jacob Frey apprised every step of the way. “What were our options?” Elder asked, recounting the decisionmaking process. “From what I saw, it was necessary.”
At least three police sergeants logged 130 hours of overtime on their June 6 time sheet — equivalent to around $10,000 in extra income, according to payroll data obtained through a public records request. The data provided to the Star Tribune listed the number and type of hours logged by all sworn officers in every pay period between April and June. It does not specify how many they worked each day or include overtime by civilian staff.
Those veterans were among nearly 200 Minneapolis officers who clocked at least 80 additional hours during the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, which averages out to at least 10 hours per day for 14 days.
Nearly one-quarter of the rank-and-file officers have since contacted an attorney seeking disability benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Costs directly associated with the unrest exceeded the Police Department’s overtime budget by about $3.5 million, said Robin McPherson, the agency’s finance director.
City leaders had allocated $4 million in police overtime for the entire year.
Three months later, it’s still unclear exactly how Minneapolis will foot the bill.
Unanticipated overspending could potentially be offset by underspending within another department, said Micah Intermill, city budget director. But if there is no extra revenue to cover the difference, the city will likely turn to its rainy day fund — a $40 million reserve of unobligated general fund cash, of which leaders are already borrowing $8 million to balance the budget.
“It’s messy, to be sure,” Intermill said. “But there are a number of paths we can go down to make sure expenses are covered at year-end.”
An economic crisis fueled by the coronavirus pandemic left city leaders scrambling to cut costs this summer in anticipation of a $156 million revenue loss.
Some of those cuts affected the Police Department, which was initially slated to have about a $193 million budget for 2020. Elected officials estimated in late July that they had saved about $8.6 million of that when they implemented a citywide hiring and wage freeze. Around that same time, in their first major budget negotiations following George Floyd’s death, the mayor and council agreed to cut another $1.5 million from the department’s budget, much of which got moved to the Office of Violence Prevention.
Around 145 civilian Police Department employees and appointed staff, including Arradondo, agreed to take four to six unpaid furlough days. Sworn personnel and members of the Fire Department were not subject to the furloughs because their bargaining units did not reach an agreement with the city.
Since Memorial Day, the police force has lost more than 10% of its officers through resignation, termination, retirement or medical leave. Depleted staffing levels amid a surge in violent crime and intense political debate over the Police Department’s future has slowed emergency response times throughout the city and sunk morale.
Frey’s 2021 budget proposal anticipates further departures and a continued reliance on overtime to fill the gaps. The Police Department projects it will spend an additional $5 million above its allotted $3.5 million in overtime costs next year — a figure several council members say is not sustainable long term.
City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who serves as chair of the council’s budget committee, stressed that while she doesn’t want to cap the amount of overtime police can work, the department shouldn’t get a “blank check” from the council. But Palmisano fears staffing is already precariously low for a city the size of Minneapolis, where on some occasions only eight officers are expected to patrol an entire precinct.
“There’s not a lot of fat there to cut,” she said of the department’s budget, noting that 80% is earmarked for employee salaries and benefits.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, one of the chief proponents of dismantling the Police Department, questioned whether the city should continue authorizing unprecedented levels of overtime when there’s a perception within the community that officers are shirking their duties.
“When you have a surge of a lot of people saying the same thing, that’s notable,” Ellison said.
Police officials have balked at allegations of a deliberate work slowdown, countering that patrol cars are stretched and officers are stuck in a constant reactionary mode because of the sheer volume of calls.
“Officers continue to come in and work every single day. You’re not seeing the ‘Blue Flu,’ ” Elder said. “We’re doing the absolute best we can with the resources we’re given.”
For others, the situation is further proof that the city must find ways to shift certain responsibilities away from the police.
“We can’t keep asking them to do more with less and less and expect to get good results,” said Council Member Steve Fletcher. “We have to transfer some of their work.”
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.