The Minneapolis Police Department will receive millions more in funding under a new budget approved just weeks after the embattled agency survived a campaign to replace it altogether.
Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council last week agreed to a $1.6 billion budget that includes just over $191 million for the Police Department (MPD), restoring its funding to nearly the level it held before George Floyd was killed in 2020.
Though some City Council members lamented the mayor's police spending, they made few efforts to do anything about it. That reluctance was a stark contrast to last year, when Minneapolis found itself at the forefront of a national movement calling on leaders to move money from police departments to other services in the months after Floyd's death.
That urgency faded as crime surged and the "defund police" message became a political liability. Minneapolis has joined other cities in walking back police funding cuts.
"There wasn't more of that type of action because there wasn't the political will, really, to do so," said Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who lost his re-election bid this fall. Last year, Cunningham helped lead a push to move police funding to violence prevention and other programs. This year, he sought to boost those efforts — but using different pools of money.
Some community groups in Minneapolis welcomed the new budget, saying they viewed it as evidence that elected officials were willing to fulfill their campaign promises to bolster funding for police but also other public safety services. The plan also increases funding for the Office of Violence Prevention to $11.3 million.
"This vote is a first step on a long road back from the division over public safety that has characterized the past 18 tumultuous months in Minneapolis," said Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council and one of only a handful of people to speak in favor of increasing the police budget.
Some activists described the budget as a moral failure, saying it ignored lessons learned after Floyd's death and poured too much money into a department with a history of perpetuating racial inequities.
"I think many people in Minneapolis feel dismayed," said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, a spokeswoman for the progressive organization TakeAction Minnesota. "What we've seen [is], year after year, no matter what's happening with crime, the MPD always demands more resources."
Last fall, Minneapolis faced ominous projections that it could lose millions in tax revenue while people halted normal activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The city sought to cut funding from nearly every department — and some activists and elected officials saw additional reductions as a way to improve public safety after Floyd's killing.
Hundreds of people signed up to speak about the cuts in public hearings that dragged late into the night. Elected officials received more than 1,500 pages of e-mailed comments.
Cunningham — together with Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Steve Fletcher — pitched a "Safety for All" budget that sought to move about $8 million from the mayor's police budget to other services, primarily those focusing on mental health and violence prevention.
City leaders settled on a Police Department budget of about $164 million — with additional money in a reserve fund. After the council released that money, and added federal aid, the department budget was nearly $180 million.
Budget negotiations for 2022 began in August, when the city's elected leaders were pursuing re-election bids. The city faced a better financial picture, having just received roughly $271 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money.
Frey proposed a $191.9 million budget for the Police Department, saying he wanted to add recruit classes, improve the field training program and increase health and wellness programs, among other efforts. He also pitched $7.8 million for the Office of Violence Prevention, an increase over the past year.
In an interview Friday, the mayor said that increase went to lawsuit payouts, workers' compensation claims and other costs the city is obligated to cover, as well as improved accountability and transparency for the department.
On Nov. 2, Minneapolis voters decisively rejected the ballot measure that would have replaced the Police Department with a public safety agency. Budget hearings opened two weeks later.
The final hearings were dominated by activists who had supported the ballot initiative to replace the department. Many asked council members to block the mayor's proposed increase, rather than cutting the police budget.
Some police reform advocates said they're focused on supporting parallel state and federal investigations into whether Minneapolis police engaged in racial discrimination.
Dave Bicking of Communities United Against Police Brutality said the group has collected about 1,500 accounts of people's interactions with Minneapolis police, hoping that investigators will push through changes that have stalled in political processes.
"I think the mayor and the City Council have circled the wagons, and nothing is going to change unless they are forced to," Bicking said.
Only a handful of the nearly 120 people who participated in the budget hearings expressed support for the increase.
Council members got their first chance to change the mayor's budget Dec. 3. In a public meeting, some who had supported the effort to replace the Police Department echoed activists' concerns.
They said they feared the true costs of the MPD were being masked — noting that on top of the money earmarked for the department, the city was also transferring $24 million into its self-insurance fund to help cover the costs of lawsuits and workers' compensation claims.
The city's budget director, Amelia Cruver, said in a public meeting that using the general fund to cover the onetime legal expenses was consistent with their financial practices. It avoids giant fluctuations in the city's tax rates, she said. Frey, in an interview, noted that the transfer was disclosed in the city's budget book.
Four council members — Cunningham, Bender, Jeremiah Ellison and Cam Gordon — voted against the spending plan, citing their concerns over the Police Department's increase. Of those four, only Ellison is returning next year. Only one of them, Gordon, introduced an amendment that reduced police funding: $100,000 to improve environmental justice programs.
Bender and Cunningham pitched a $3.75 million measure to boost mental health services, interrupt cycles of violence and evaluate which 911 calls could be handled by other agencies. The money would come from the city's general fund, not the police budget.
"Those of us who have stepped into leadership around public safety have had to deal with the worst backlashes and harassment and the biggest hits, so folks, after a really tough election, there just wasn't the will to do so, to fight such a major increase," Cunningham said.
The mayor joined the council's meeting and said he supported each of the programs the council members wanted to boost, but he urged them instead to use federal aid. He said the city's top financial officer warned that depleting the general fund would likely violate financial policies to keep a budget reserve.
Council members unanimously agreed to the spending, using federal aid instead.
Despite their disagreements, the mayor and council members universally expressed support for expanding violence prevention programs.
"Nothing is more in flux right now in our city than our public safety needs, and our ways to address them have to be this both-and approach," said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who is returning next year.