Minneapolis City Council cuts police budget for new public safety approach; Frey says he may veto

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender speaking to constituents in 2019. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

The City Council voted Monday to divert millions in programming and staff out of the Police Department to focus on crime prevention and alternative public safety approaches.

The council voted 7-6 to allow attrition to reduce the police force to 750 officers in 2022, a cut of nearly 16% — a major victory for anti-police activists who have seized the public safety debate since George Floyd’s killing. 

All told, the City Council is a sharp reduction from Mayor Jacob Frey’s police budget of $179 million. Frey’s own proposed budget already cut $12.6 million from police. 

Frey threatened a veto: “We continue to stand ready to collaborate and support the safety beyond policing initiatives, but I am actively considering a veto due to the massive, permanent cut to officer capacity.”

The cuts come amid a rise in gun and other violent crimes, including a 15-year high in people wounded by gunfire, though council supporters say shifting the money to the new programs will reduce an equivalent amount of police workload and be more effective at cutting violent crime. 

The City Council was using the only tool it has — a budget scalpel — to force change in the Police Department about six months after Floyd died under the knee of a cop.  

In addition to the officer attrition, the council voted 11-2 to cut the Police Department by $5.7 million, largely by cutting $5 million in overtime to fund alternative approaches to public safety as part of the “Safety for All” plan authored by City Council President Lisa Bender and Council Members Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham. 

The plan would shift some nonviolent 911 calls to city staff and pay for mental health professionals to respond to calls 24 hours a day, removing some of the burden of mental health response from police.  

Budget Committee Chair Linea Palmisano and Council Member Lisa Goodman voted against the cut. An alternative by Palmisano, Alondra Cano and Jamal Osman failed 6-7. It would have created a $4 million reserve to fund pilot programs for “public safety beyond policing.”

The council also voted 9-3 to cut $6.4 million from the police community service officer program — in which officers-in-training work part time for the department — as well as the second and third police recruiting classes next year. They’ll move the money into a staffing reserve, from which the police chief can request funding for manpower. The council later added another $5 million to the fund for police overtime, but Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo will have to return to the council to ask for the money.

Fletcher said it’s a way to give the police chief flexibility, with more accountability and transparency, while Bender said it would tell the council more about how the department expends resources rather than giving it a blank check.

Council member Lisa Goodman called the proposal a “totally offensive” attack on the police chief, saying it would require Arrandondo to come back to the council and beg for money to cover overtime.

“Our job is to provide the community with safety as we define it, and clearly it needs to be defined differently, but right now, our system is MPD,” Goodman said. “It feels like to me what we’re trying to do is encourage him to retire — push him towards coming back to us over and over again.”

Cunningham said the city’s top responsibility is good governance.

“I am very frustrated and tired of the narrative that if we try to hold this Police Department more accountable in any way, shape or form, it is somehow a personal slight against the chief,” he said. “This is not a question of his leadership.”

Arrandondo and Frey oppose the council’s actions, including the cut in overtime and steep cut in staffing.

Frey, who is not a voting member of the council, had proposed an extra $5 million in police overtime — for a total $8.5 million — to compensate for history-making attrition and disability leave.

Police overtime has been consistent in recent years, and until May was 16% lower than last year. But since July — after civil unrest over Floyd’s death had largely subsided — overtime steadily increased as record numbers of officers left and violent crime spiked, Arrandondo said.

The number of cops has dropped 166 so far this year, which has driven up overtime just to cover shifts. The number of cops on leave increased from seven in January to 127 now, Arrandondo said. Police overtime in October was nearly $1 million — $650,000 more than the monthly average for the first five months of 2020.

The council has a public hearing Wednesday before voting on the budget as amended.