Minneapolis City Hall. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo won a symbolic victory when the City Council passed a budget in the early morning hours Thursday that pledges to support Frey’s plan to bolster the Police Department roster to 888 officers after 2021. Just days earlier, the council was poised to allow attrition to reduce the force to 750, which drew a veto threat from Frey.
It was largely symbolic because, for now, the department has shrunk in size due to a wave of officer retirements, quits and disability claims. Recruiting will be difficult in the current atmosphere of rising violent crime and widespread skepticism of — and in some cases open contempt for — police in Minneapolis.
Still, by a close 7-6 vote, the council caved under Frey’s veto threat, halting momentum of the “defund” and “abolish” movement, which had seized the debate in the months since the police killing of George Floyd. Just days after the Floyd killing, council members were prodded by activists into pledging to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.”
Frey rejected that effort, earning him jeers from the progressive activists who are ascendant in city politics.
“Today’s vote reflects our commitment to a both-and approach to public safety in this defining moment for our city. My colleagues were right to leave the targeted staffing level unchanged from 888 and continue moving forward with our shared priorities,” Frey said in a statement early Thursday.
The debate comes amid a sharp rise in violent crime following the Floyd killing and the unrest and rioting that followed. Some 500 people have been wounded by gunfire this year — a 15 year high.
The budget the City Council passed includes significant cuts in the police budget and efforts to change public safety in Minneapolis, however. The City Council moved $7.7 million from the Police Department to other departments, offloading a roughly equivalent amount of work from the department. Instead of police, trained mental health workers will respond to mental health crisis calls; other city workers will respond to minor incidents or take reports in cases where police are judged not needed.
The Police Department is under the mayor’s command, which means the council’s only influence in public safety policy is through its budgetary authority. With that in mind, the council put more than $11 million in a reserve fund for recruiting and to offset a cut in the overtime budget made Thursday — but Arradondo will have to come before the council and request the money. That will give the council some leverage to force reform of the beleaguered department.
Still, activists were livid at the council’s acceptance of Frey’s plan to hire more officers.
D.A. Bullock, a Reformer contributor and defund police activist, tweeted, “Every moment that we don’t receive actual safety for all, every terrible, dangerous to below dimwitted and below average officer belongs to them,” he said of the seven council members who supported the mayor. “Their dropout recruiting class. Every MPD waste of money, every case we settle out of court, as those cost build and build…And God forbid, every body MPD leaves broken, perhaps dead. That is their lack of will and strength to do the right thing manifest.”
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