Future of Minneapolis Police Department at stake in debate between mayor, council

By: - December 8, 2020 8:03 pm

Photo courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis City Council president clapped back at Mayor Jacob Frey Tuesday for threatening to veto the municipal budget, saying doing so would lead to a cut in city programs and staff.  

Frey threatened a veto Monday night due to the “massive, permanent cut” to police officer staffing made by the City Council during a budget session.

Council President Lisa Bender responded Tuesday saying the council’s amended budget has the same number of sworn officers, recruit classes and overtime that Frey proposed for 2021, plus additional investments in violence prevention, community safety and a mental health response team.

But the council also voted 7-6 to allow attrition to reduce the police force to 750 officers in 2022, a cut of nearly 16%, over the objections of Frey and the police chief. Bender said Frey’s “insistence” that the council plan to have 888 officers is “completely unrealistic.”

“The realistic budget the City Council has drafted is based on the actual current staffing of MPD after years of attrition and an exodus of officers since the killing of George Floyd and the burning of the 3rd precinct,” she said. “If the mayor has a real plan to hire 150 more officers in 2022, he could simply propose that in next year’s budget along with the taxes needed to pay for it.”

The City Council reduced the Police Department’s budget by $13.4 million, but created an $11.4 million staffing reserve fund, so the difference is only $2 million from Frey’s $179 million police budget. That’s on top of the $14.3 million reduction in Frey’s budget, a 7.4% decrease from the 2020 adopted police budget. 

The council also moved $6.4 million from the police community service officer program — in which officers-in-training work part time for the department — and second and third police recruiting classes next year, plus another $5 million for overtime, to a new staffing fund from which the police chief can request funding. That created consternation from some council members that the chief would have to beg for money to fill shifts.

The council also cut the Police Department expense budget by $5.7 million, largely by cutting $5 million in overtime, and moved the money to other departments to fund alternative public safety approaches that were part of the “Safety for All” plan authored by Bender and Council Members Steve Fletcher and Phillipe Cunningham. 

Frey had proposed $8.5 million in general fund police overtime — plus $1.5 million in a special fund for contracted police services like at US Bank Stadium — to compensate for history-making attrition and disability leave. That’s $5 million more in general fund overtime than this year.

Frey does not have the power of a line-item veto to strike out individual budget items he does not support, such as  the council’s police plan. 

Bender said if the mayor vetoes the budget, he would trigger a $20 million budget cut that would affect every city department next year, while the city continues grappling with the pandemic, rebuilding public safety and facing multi-million-dollar lawsuits related to police violence. A $20 million cut would be about 1.3% of the budget. 

“This veto would be so destructive to the city and our residents that it is difficult to take the threat seriously,” Bender said. “The City Council has stepped up to lead, to listen and respond to complex demands from a community reeling from the death of George Floyd and persistent police and community violence. I look forward to adopting a budget for 2021 that makes investments in safety, affordable housing, health and infrastructure that our city needs now more than ever.”

But it’s a little more complicated than that. The budget is technically five resolutions, which must be approved by at least seven of the 13 council members. Then those resolutions go to the mayor within five days, and he can approve them, allow them to become effective without signing them, or veto them.

If he vetoes any of the five resolutions, the City Council reconsiders it at its next meeting. Although the mayor doesn’t have line-item veto authority, he can approve or veto individual resolutions, in this case most likely the general appropriation resolution. A two-thirds majority of the council (nine votes) can override the veto.

The city’s tax levy must be filed with the county auditor by Dec. 28. If, say, the mayor vetoed the resolution and the council couldn’t override it, and the two sides couldn’t come to a compromise, then state law requires the current levy to carry forward to the next fiscal year.

Budget Director Micah Intermill says the difference between the 2020 tax levy and “projected fiscal need” for 2021 is about $20 million, so the city would need to cut that much from the budget.

The council holds its final public hearing on the budget Wednesday from 4 p.m. to no later than 9:30 p.m., and then the council will take up the budget resolutions. The council can make more budget changes before final adoption of the budget. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.