In adopting a budget that moves $8 million out of next year's police budget, the Minneapolis City Council made its most assertive move yet to change the city's public safety system following George Floyd's death.
Their final, unanimous vote Thursday just after midnight cleared the way for the city to create new mental health crisis teams, expand mental health training for 911 call-takers, and boost programs aimed at preventing violence without police.
Many who spoke at a five-hour public hearing before the vote said they feared the plan would ultimately leave the police department stretched too thin amid a spike in violent crime. Others said they thought it was a good first step but didn't go far enough to boost funding for housing and social services.
In the process, the council made one concession to Mayor Jacob Frey: By a 7-6 vote, they upheld the current authorized size of the force, 888, rather than lowering it to about 750, closer to the minimum required by the city charter.
Frey had threatened to veto the budget if the council lowered the limit, even though the force is so depleted by retirements, resignations and officers on leave that the change would have no practical effect on the number of officers on the street next year.
Council members who supported the plan to trim the police budget viewed their vote as a victory and a step toward fulfilling a pledge nine of them made to work toward ending the department after Floyd's death.
"Every resident in our city deserves to make it home safe at the end of the day. It's easy to talk about what the future of public safety should look like, it's much harder to put your money where your mouth is," Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said in a statement.
The council's plan, he said, "takes this conversation out of the realm of 'what if' and makes that vision a reality."
The budget now heads to Frey, who said Thursday that he was doing "due diligence," but expects he will approve it.
Overall, the mayor said he is pleased with the budget. "I think there's really good reason to be optimistic about the future in Minneapolis. We're rallying around a common cause, which is very much a both-and approach" to public safety, he said, using a phrase that has been adopted by people who want to keep police while increasing social services.
While the budget applies to every city service, policing and public safety dominated the conversation as the mayor and council tried to settle on a plan for 2021. Hundreds of people testifying at public hearings reflected the divisions in the city about the role of police and whether the department should be downsized in the wake of Floyd's death, as well as how to combat the crime that has surged since this spring.
Frey's recommended budget cut $14 million from police, but the City Council's plan to divert $8 million more drew concerns from Chief Medaria Arradondo. In the end, the council acted this week to assert more control over the department.
"For decades, what the council has always done is say, 'We'll approve the police budget and that's not our problem.' We don't have to be accountable when something bad happens," said Council Member Steve Fletcher, who wrote the plan with Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Phillipe Cunningham.
The budget talks unfolded months after the Minneapolis Charter Commission stalled a council proposal that would have allowed them to replace the police department with a wider community safety department in which officers would no longer be mandatory.
The city's charter, which serves as its constitution, gives the mayor "complete power" over the department but gives council the responsibility for funding it. Some charter commissioners had criticized the council for asking for more power over police, when it hadn't done more to change the department in its budgeting process.
Bender said they did take that into account when they were approaching this year's budget, but she doesn't think it was the ideal way to go about changing the department.
"I think we see the difficulty of trying to shoehorn policymaking in the budget," she said, adding that she hopes there will be a charter change next year.
This year, in addition to the cuts, the council placed $11.4 million in a new reserve fund, and it will only be released if the council agrees to do so in separate votes next year.
That fund will hold money for two of the three expected recruit classes, and money that could offset cuts to police overtime. Arradondo has said he believes they need extra overtime money this year to ensure that officers are available to respond to 911 calls amid a shortage. The department is effectively down 166 police officers, in part because a large number of them filed PTSD claims after the rioting that followed Floyd's death.
Critics say they fear the plan will hamper the chief's ability to bring in new officers, noting that it takes a significant amount of time to hire and train recruits. Supporters say they hope this will improve transparency.
"I am very frustrated and tired of the narrative that if we try to hold this police department more accountable in any way, shape and form, it is somehow a personal sleight against the chief," Cunningham said in a public meeting this week. He added: "That is a part of our job as governing officials to dig into the details."
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994