The Minneapolis police budget adopted last week after deeply divided citizen input yielded mixed results — and no guarantee that the city will have the necessary resources to stem rising violent crime while also enacting effective policing reforms.
The 2021 spending package represents a compromise between Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council that rightly maintains an authorized sworn officer force of 888.
Frey had threatened a veto over a proposal to lower the size of the force to 750 — and by a 7-6 vote the council backed down. That's the good news. But even in the face of a troubling 2020 crime wave, the police budget was reduced, and the council gave itself more power over funding for overtime and new recruit classes.
Those are funding needs that the police chief and mayor should control — not 13 council members. To access the newly created $11.4 million reserve fund, the MPD will need council approval.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo says he needs extra overtime money simply to have enough officers to respond to 911 calls. The MPD is effectively down 166 police officers, in part because a large number of them filed PTSD claims after the rioting that followed George Floyd's death in police custody. And even though the authorized number of officers survived for now, the council could continue its misguided drive to shrink the department by denying funding for new recruit classes.
In fact, one of the ways the mayor and chief can affect the kind of changes needed in the department is through new hires. With so many cops leaving, it's an opportunity to remake the MPD with diverse hires who also have the right temperament and sense of community service.
Frey recommended a $1.5 billion total city budget that included about $179 million for the MPD. That's down from the $193 million initially budgeted in 2020. (Due to COVID-19, most city departments faced 2020 cuts — including the MPD.)
Still, the council plan cuts an additional $7.7 million from the police budget and moves that amount to other departments to support mental health crisis teams and violence prevention efforts and have other employees handle lower-level nonviolent crimes such as theft and property damage.
There's nothing wrong with expanding and improving those kinds of initiatives — they are welcome and needed. They just shouldn't be done at the expense of a Police Department that is already understaffed.
Many members of the public who joined online budget discussions pleaded with City Council members to deliver the reforms they promised after Floyd's death. Some spoke passionately about violence that African Americans and other minorities have experienced at the hands of police. They're right that steps must be taken to ensure that officers don't abuse their power and are held accountable when they do.
At the same time, many residents argue that reducing the police budget is irresponsible. They cited violent carjackings, robberies and assaults and said they don't feel safe in their own city. Those concerns must be addressed as well. If residents, employers and visitors believe the city is too dangerous, those who can leave will do so and will take their tax, consumer and job-creating dollars with them.
The future of the MPD has clearly divided the city and its leaders and almost certainly will be the top issue in the 2021 city elections.
In the meantime, those who care about the well-being of Minnesota's largest city and economic engine have good reason to be concerned about public safety and needed reforms at the MPD.