Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo are sharply at odds with City Council President Lisa Bender over cutting rising police overtime costs as the council finalizes a 2021 budget — amid an exodus of police officers and rising crime.
The Minneapolis Police Department spent $8.8 million on police overtime through October, exceeding its budgeted overtime by $5.4 million, according to public records. The spike was largely due to an increase after the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day and subsequent protests, riot, looting and arson.
Three Minneapolis City Council members led by Bender have proposed gutting police overtime next year to pay for their alternative public safety approach called “Safety for All.”
Meanwhile, police continue to grapple with a wave of violence, with about 500 people wounded by gunfire this year — a 15-year high — and homicides inching toward 80. Violent crimes like robbery and aggravated assault are up 17% from the five-year average.
The city spent over $4.3 million on police overtime in June — about two-thirds what it spent on overtime all of last year — $3.3 million of that the first two weeks after Floyd died.
Other city departments have also racked up more overtime than budgeted — including elections, public works and 911 — due to the pandemic, election and unrest, spending a total of $11.4 million (including police), or $6.2 million more than budgeted.
Department heads like Arradondo have the flexibility to spend more or less as needed, so the department’s hefty overtime bill has been partially offset by lower spending in other areas of the police budget. Still, the department was about $5 million over budget through October.
Minneapolis Budget Director Micah Intermill said if the department remains over budget by year’s end, the deficit will be offset by unused contingency funds, or by departments that may end the year under budget. The city also has $40 million in a rainy day fund, from which it’s using $8 million to balance the budget as revenue dropped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He expects the city to end the year on budget.
The city’s fiscal picture for next year, however, is grim, like other cities across the country dealing with collapsing revenues and increased public health and other costs due to the pandemic. Frey has proposed a $1.47 billion budget that is a 6% reduction from this year’s budget, including a $12.6 million cut to the Police Department.
Linea Palmisano, chair of the Minneapolis City Council’s budget committee, said the city is having to pay overtime just to cover regular shifts due to an exodus of officers since the Floyd killing and unrest that followed. In her ward, for example, the city has to pay overtime to staff eight patrol officers and one desk sergeant per shift.
Palmisano said police overtime to meet minimum staffing requirements are viewed as non-negotiable, which ties the council’s hands.
“That’s part of why it’s so important to be a responsible, accountable department head; ‘cause you’re in charge of your own budget,” she said.
The city budgeted $4 million for police overtime in all of 2020, and Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed budget projects an extra $5 million in overtime will be needed — for a total $8.5 million — to compensate for officers lost to attrition and disability leave.
About 40-45 officers leave the department annually, but the city expects 142 to leave by spring, causing a significant staffing shortage and leading to increased response times, according to the mayor.
“The increase in overtime cost covers less than 30% of the operational capacity decrease due to the increase in attrition,” the mayor’s budget proposal says.
A plan by City Council Members Bender, Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham called “Safety for All” would cut $5 million in police overtime out of the 2021 budget and divert it to alternative public safety approaches, like 24/7 emergency mental health response, violence prevention and neighborhood safety programs. They would also allow attrition to reduce the size of the force by more than 15%.
Frey and Arradondo held a press conference Monday to oppose the proposal, saying the reduction in staffing from 888 to 750 officers is wrong-headed.
Arradondo said the city’s attrition rates have been “significant and historical,” with the department down about 120 officers so far this year, creating a one-dimensional department that merely patrols and investigates rather than being more proactive to prevent crime.
Frey said the “Safety for All” plan of the three members of the City Council ignores inevitable overtime costs next year, such as for the trial of the police officers charged with Floyd’s killing.
“Is police overtime the first option? No, of course not,” Frey said. “We know from experience, we know from data that when officers or anybody for that matter is tired, or hungry or sick, or forced to make a split-second decision or working substantial amounts of overtime, they’re more likely to make a bad decision.”
The city would rather have adequate staffing to avoid putting officers in situations where they’re more likely to use force, he said.
Arradondo said the city should not use overtime as de facto staffing, but needs adequate staffing to begin with.
“We have never had a council that has even suggested removing overtime from the Police Department,” he said. “I hope that the council will understand that it’s unprecedented to think of removing that.”
Bill Rodriguez, a member of MPLS Voices that is running the “Safety Now Minneapolis” campaign, said $5 million was added to the police budget to help cover shifts that will otherwise go unstaffed, and the chief warned it would only help cover up to 30% of vacant shifts.
“This is at best disingenuous and at worst a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If that money is taken off the table, they are in effect cutting patrols. I can’t imagine most residents would approve of that if they understood the implications.”
The Safety for All $5 million cut to overtime will be considered during budget negotiations this week before the council votes on a final budget Dec. 9.