Weeks into the job, Minneapolis' new police chief raised concerns Thursday about staffing after the City Council cut several civilian positions and about $1 million from the proposed 2023 Minneapolis police budget.
The moves shaved about half a percent off the proposed budget of $195 million. The council also cut civilian positions from the department to fund new positions elsewhere in the city, including auditors, a city attorney and three positions with the Performance Management and Innovation Department.
Even with the cuts, the proposed budget is more than what the police department had in 2020, before the killing of George Floyd sparked a worldwide protest over policing.
Police Chief Brian O'Hara, who was sworn in Nov. 7, said the department is at its lowest staffing level in years. Next year's budget provides for 731 sworn officers, a number required by law. There are currently 564 sworn officers "able to work the street," said O'Hara.
Speaking with Mayor Jacob Frey at a City Hall news conference after the council's budget committee's work, O'Hara mentioned the consent decree widely expected to land in Minneapolis next year as a result of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice review of the police department. He and Frey expressed concerns about the department being able to quickly adjust to the requirements of the decree.
O'Hara's comment during Thursday's budget meeting brought a response from Council Member Aisha Chughtai, who said the city has already set aside $2 million for a consent decree implementation and compliance fund. The money will come from the general fund.
At the meeting, council members made a series of amendments to Mayor Frey's proposed 2023 police budget, including moving $30,000 to the Civil Rights department to fund the Community Commission on Police Oversight. Two-thirds of the funding, or $20,000, would carry into future budget years.
The committee also unanimously supported moving two civilian positions from the police department to add two public safety auditors to the office of the city auditor.
The committee voted 7-6 in favor of moving $353,004 for three civilian positions at the police department in order to add three staff to the Performance Management and Innovation Department (PMI). "Having them focused and accelerating their work will pay dividends as they find more efficiencies," said Council Member Andrew Johnson, who introduced the amendment.
Council Member Linea Palmisano said growing the PMI staff seems premature, and voted against the amendment. Emily Koski, Lisa Goodman, Jamal Osman, LaTrisha Vetaw and Michael Rainville also voted no. Elliott Payne, Robin Wonsley, Jeremiah Ellison, Andrea Jenkins, Jason Chavez, and Chughtai joined Johnson to pass the measure.
A measure to reduce the MPD budget by $150,000 to fund immigration-related services in Minneapolis passed 7 to 6. The one-time move will increase the budget for the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department's Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs.
The committee also unanimously supported cutting the police budget by $185,000 to support a full-time position at the city attorney's office.
The committee also redirected some $550,000 of the police department's general fund for community safety pilot projects, the creation of a Lake Street Safety Center and to support auto-theft prevention.
Mayor Frey said "the sky is not falling" with regard to the budget cuts, but the $1,022,104 cut from the MPD budget includes some $762,000 of "ongoing" funding, meaning the cuts continue into future budget years.
The amendments passed Thursday would shift five civilian positions out of the MPD, he continued, and the cuts will mean sworn officers will backfill their work. "This is data analysts. This is technicians. This is community outreach. These are people that just help with the payroll or the budget. This is work that needs to be done on a daily basis within the police department. And we need to make sure that we're properly resourced to get that work done," he said.
The City Council will take up the budget again on Tuesday. A public hearing on the 2023 spending plan, tax levy and proposed fees will be held at 6:05 p.m. in room 317 at City Hall.
Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this report.