Minneapolis residents are still torn over whether the Police Department is best suited to improve safety in the city — and how much to invest in it — months after the police killing of George Floyd and in a year marred by violent crime.
Funding for the Minneapolis Police Department was the focus Monday of the first public hearing on the city's 2021 budget. The $1.5 billion budget proposed by Mayor Jacob Frey puts $179 million toward the Police Department and calls for adding three recruit classes in an effort to offset a wave of officer departures in recent months.
Residents were able to call and share their opinions with the council during the virtual hearing, which lasted several hours. Their views on the department, and safety in general, were starkly divided.
Several residents painted a grim picture of life in Minneapolis, a city they said was replete with assaults, gunfire and carjackings. The city is in a state of emergency, they said, and needs more officers to handle the ongoing crime.
"There's nothing that's more important right now than our safety," said Chris Hewitt of north Minneapolis, who did not want cuts to the department. "I'll gladly give up things like street art or more bike lanes if it means more patrols in the neighborhoods."
Meanwhile, others said money allocated for the police should be diverted to other services to address the root causes of crime, such as affordable housing, youth programming and direct economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic. They mentioned the city should create unarmed teams to respond to mental-health calls.
Nicole Weiler, who lives in the Whittier neighborhood and served on a work group studying alternative responses to emergency calls for the city, asked the council to cut funding for police and use it to try other response methods.
"The police respond after an event occurs. They don't and won't keep us safe," Weiler said. "Statements like these that crime is on the rise are being weaponized, not in the name of public safety, but in maintaining the status quo and unaccountable power of a department that causes active harm."
Others offered more nuanced views of the police, saying the council should approve the proposed budget but continue to pursue reforms to make officers protect all residents, such as improving oversight of the police union and adding more racial sensitivity training.
"Because of racial problems and some overly aggressive handling of situations, there needs to be serious reform," resident Christine Popowski said. "However, defunding the police when there is an uptick in violent crime is absurd."
Seward resident jim saliba, whose son is Black, shared similar concerns of others in the meeting about being afraid to walk outside. Adding more officers, however, would not solve the problem, he said.
"Increasing the number of police officers will only give some of us an illusion of greater safety while increasing real dangers for many, including my son," saliba said. "Move these funds out of the Police Department to address real needs in healthy, appropriate ways that improve the safety of all."
Several callers expressed support for Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who has noted staffing shortages and warned budget cuts would make the department "one-dimensional." Hours before Monday's hearing, Arradondo sent an e-mail to people signed up for city alerts encouraging them to support Frey's proposed budget.
"There are ongoing organizing efforts around further divestment from MPD and we do expect they will show up in large numbers as we have seen in past years," he wrote.
Frey's budget proposal is about $5 million less than the police budget this year after the city cut it under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal also calls for additional funding for the city's Office of Violence Prevention, including an extra $2.5 million for a program aimed at stopping cycles of violence and $100,000 to establish a "more community-friendly" workspace for the office. Frey's plan also includes an additional $7.2 million in funding for affordable housing.
Last week, a split council granted $500,000 to bring in officers from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Metro Transit to help the department answer calls. Council members will have the chance to make their own changes to the budget early next month.
There are two other public hearings for the budget scheduled: the truth-in-taxation hearing on Dec. 2 and one directly before the council vote on Dec. 9.
Staff writers Liz Navratil and Libor Jany contributed to this report.