The Biden administration announced that communities experiencing a surge in gun violence can use American Rescue Plan funding to rehire police officers to pre-pandemic levels, pay overtime, upgrade technology and boost prosecution of gun crimes.
The White House also declared Wednesday that the administration will convene a Community Violence Intervention Collaborative of 15 jurisdictions, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, that are committing to use a portion of their COVID-19 relief to address summer violence.
Over the next year and a half, the administration will meet with local officials as part of that collaborative.
"Our country is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence, and Minneapolis isn't immune to it. My proposal for the first wave of federal rescue plan funding features a strong commitment to violence prevention and intervention work in addition to resources for law enforcement," said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey in a statement. "We're grateful for the White House's commitment to working directly with local governments to curb gun violence."
The number of Minneapolis gunshot victims has increased 90% from last year, while violent crime arrests have dropped by a third, according to police statistics.
According to a White House news release, the U.S. Marshals Service is conducting nationwide fugitive sweeps of people wanted for homicides, rapes and aggravated robbery. The Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI are also embedded with local law enforcement investigating criminal organizations as part of the Justice Department's Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime in cities nationwide.
Last month, Hennepin and Ramsey County deputies serving on a U.S. marshals task force shot and killed Winston Boogie Smith Jr. as they attempted to take him into custody on a warrant for being a felon in possession of a gun, leading to weeks of protests in Uptown. The yet-unidentified officers were not wearing body cameras during the shooting , allegedly due to U.S. Marshals Service policy, raising questions about the transparency of federal task forces.
Minneapolis will not be partnering with federal law enforcement in the violence intervention collaboration, said Frey's spokeswoman Tara Niebeling. But "as a participating jurisdiction, our team will receive technical assistance from the administration and be given access to national leaders in the conversation around public safety and the rise in gun violence across the nation," she said.
While details of St. Paul's role in the collaboration are still taking form, Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement Wednesday that he looked forward to "working with the administration and partners as we continue working to build the most comprehensive, coordinated and data-driven approach to public safety our city has ever endeavored."
Congress allocated Minneapolis $271 million through the American Rescue Plan Act to allay the city's estimated revenue loss of $281 million last year. The city has received $135.5 million so far.
As the U.S. Treasury Department continues to clarify federal guidance over how to use pandemic relief money, Minneapolis City Council members spent Wednesday debating the mayor's recommendations for spending the first phase.
Earlier this month, Frey released his plan to quickly spend $99 million for citywide purposes including housing, economic rebuilding, public safety, climate and public health, city administration and a new guaranteed income pilot program.
A more robust public engagement process is expected to help determine how the remaining $172 million in federal relief will be spent.
City Council members met Wednesday to offer amendments to the mayor's proposal before they are scheduled to adopt the final plan on July 2.
Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Jeremy Schroeder made modest suggestions, which were adopted, to move $150,000 into legal aid for low-income renters and transfer $250,000 into the Neighborhood and Community Relations department for senior services.
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins proposed allocating $500,000 of "unobligated funds" — $36.5 million sitting in city coffers, but not yet spoken for in Frey's initial plan — to the Race and Equity department to support the city's Truth and Reconciliation process. Jenkins' amendment also passed because it was a citywide initiative offered in advance of Wednesday's meeting.
At the same time, it sparked a debate over the pitfalls of staking claims on unobligated funds outside the structure of a traditional budgeting process.
"This just created this gigantic slush fund where everyone's now going to race as fast as they can by the council meeting to pick their pet projects and throw them in," said Council Member Lisa Goodman. "I'm alarmed by what I think is coming next, which is just everyone picking their half a million dollars to give to whoever they want, when there's critical needs all over."
Council Member Steve Fletcher agreed, warning the others to practice restraint. "It is our job as a body to keep ourselves accountable and do disciplined work to use this money. We absolutely could spin out of control unaccountably and start funding pet projects out of this money if we all decided to support each other in doing that. We shouldn't do that."
Council Members Jamal Osman and Alondra Cano offered last-minute amendments, which other members did not have a chance to preview, also requesting unobligated funds for their wards. Osman wanted $500,000 for the Health Department to address opioid addiction and public safety in Cedar Riverside, and Cano asked for $350,000 to fight human trafficking on Lake Street.
"Addressing commercial sexual exploitation is not a pet project," Cano shot back. "The people who are bringing amendments today have done a lot of work on many of these fronts. Just because you as a council member have not been involved in that work doesn't mean that work isn't valid."
Council members unanimously chose to continue the matter to the committee's next meeting on July 1 in order to give council members more time to review the Osman and Cano proposals while also staying on track for full City Council approval on July 2.
Star Tribune staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.