Minneapolis City Council Sending Mixed Messages

Avery Heinen, Contributor

In the weeks following the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, several members of the Minneapolis City Council told crowds of protestors that they were ready to begin the process of dismantling the MPD. While the specifics were not discussed in depth, the general idea was to replace the current policing system in Minneapolis with both community patrolling and an increase in responsibility for people working in emergency and social services. For this to occur, the city’s charter would have to change, which is possible with a city-wide majority vote. For a while, it seemed that the city might do just that. The dozens of headlines from national news outlets sure seemed to think so.

Tony Webster

After the city’s charter commission requested more time to discuss any proposed changes to the charter, it was made clear that any proposed cuts to the city’s policing budget not in accordance with the existing charter would not be on the ballot in November 2020. Shortly after the 2020 election, the charter commission officially rejected the proposed amendment. Even so, it may not be the end of the movement to abolish the MPD.

It is possible for a citizen-proposed amendment of the charter to end up on the ballot if a petition can garner a number of signatures larger than or equal to 5 percent of the number of votes cast in the city the previous election. There were 238,104 votes cast by Minneapolis residents in the 2020 election, amounting to an impressive turnout of  81.3 percent. Nearly 12,000 signatures would need to be obtained, submitted, and validated for the proposal to make the ballot.

There were 238,104 votes cast by Minneapolis residents in the 2020 election, amounting to an impressive turnout of  81.3 percent

In the meantime, the charter commission’s rejection did not mean that the budget could not be changed within the bounds of the charter. The city council was still pushing for a reduction of the MPD budget by $8 million in addition to reducing the maximum number of officers who could be employed in the city at 750. Mayor Jacob Frey made it clear that if the maximum number of officers was cut from the current number, 888, he would veto the proposed budget change.

In December, an agreement was reached between the two parties: $8 million would be cut from the MPD budget, but the maximum number of officers the city could employ was not changed. This was not a popular decision, no matter where a person fell on the issue. Those who were pushing for more policing due to the uptick in crime over the summer saw no increases in resources allocated to the MPD. The people who wanted the MPD to keep the resources they had previously saw those resources take a cut. Citizens who were hoping for reforms to police training saw no money go into training programs, but money taken out of them instead. The crowd that requested a significant cut to the MPD’s budget saw very little change. Protestors who demanded a complete abolition of the police force saw no decrease in the number of officers that the city can employ. No matter how you cut it, it’s a lose-lose scenario.

$8 million would be cut from the MPD budget, but the maximum number of officers the city could employ was not changed

As for the current state of the MPD, they’re expected to be down 145 officers by the end of the month. That’s a loss of nearly 225 percent when compared to the average year. According to Mayor Frey, the city is already in a situation where officers are being pulled from specialized divisions to cover 911 responses. It’s still not enough to keep response times low, especially when the crime rate has been increasing.

In 2020, there were about 5,422 violent crimes recorded, nearly 1,000 more than in 2019. The largest jumps in violent crime rate were recorded in Wards 10 (west central), 12 (southeast) and 13 (southwest). 2021 hasn’t started out much better, with the first two weeks of January seeing a 250 percent increase in gunshot injuries from 2020. Whether it was building a new public safety department or reinforcing the MPD, there had to be something done to control the crime rate. 

In mid-February, the city council unanimously voted to provide the MPD with an additional $6.4 million to hire and train new recruits. It’s quite a change of tune, especially for the three council members who had said in a council meeting not even two weeks earlier that they had a plan to replace the MPD. Even if they did get something put together, it would take time to get an all new public safety system in place and even longer for it to even begin to work efficiently.  In the meantime, it’s probably for the best that immediate action be taken. All we can do now is hope that the new recruits do something to bring the crime rate back down.