This article was written by Connor Cummiskey
A debate over the 2021 staffing levels of police erupted early in December after the Minneapolis City Council cut almost $8 million from police funding, but later reversed course.
The council approved a budget amendment December 7 that would have redirected $7.77 million from the police department to other public safety programs, targeted toward violence prevention and mental health crisis response.
Along with that cut, the plan intended to transfer 10-15 percent of the police department’s workload to other city staff while setting a target for 750 sworn police officers, down from the initial staffing level target of 888 approved earlier this year.
Mayor Jacob Frey condemned the move, threatening to veto the budget if the council cut police staffing.
After hours of public comment from hundreds of residents the council voted one last time on a series of amendments to the budget, two of which related to police staffing.
First was an amendment that would have changed the wording of the original amendment from a limit of 750 to “remove all sworn positions held vacant in the Police Department.” That amendment failed 6-7.
Discussion over the motion centered on the current staffing level of sworn officers being around 750. The reduction in officers would not cut existing positions but instead remove vacant positions from the budget, the council members argued.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham clarified that the council’s amendment to the amount of sworn officers would not change how many officers were employed next year, because Minneapolis could only reasonably expect 750 officers, he said.
“In actuality the council’s and the mayor’s budgets have the same number of officers for 2021,” Cunningham said.
The second amendment passed 7-6. It modified the December 7 amendment to instead increase the total sworn positions held vacant in the police department to a total of 140, according to city documents.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison criticized the second amendment for being unclear, calling it dishonest about how the council is funding police.
Cunningham opposed the amendment, saying it was not responsible and could mislead constituents in thinking the council is increasing police, when the city could not reasonably hire that many officers.
He also raised doubts about the ability of the police department to recruit the difference in officers within the year while avoiding continuing the cultural problems of the past.
“It is very hard to get rid of bad police, and if we are using this number and then now the first time hearing about this aggressive recruitment plan, we end up not in a safer situation or with better policing,” Cunningham said.
When asked about recruitment levels Christine McPherson, the financial director of operations for the police department, explained that there were two full recruit classes scheduled for 2021 and a partial third later in the year. Assuming all of those classes remain funded, that would bring the total count of sworn officers to 768 and another 28 in training at the end of 2021, McPherson said. Currently, the city has 690 sworn officers. That could increase to about 880 officers if the city threw extra resources into recruitment.
After discussing the remaining budget amendments, the council ultimately approved a 2021 budget of $1.47 billion. That reflected a decrease of roughly 6 percent from 2020, according to city documents.
The decrease meant cuts to all departments due to a reduction of resources during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a December 9 presentation.
The total levy is $374.3 million, an increase of 5.75 percent over the 2020 levy. Despite that, most residents should see a decrease in their property taxes due to the expiration of a tax increment financing district. Tax increment financing (TIF) is a public financing method that aims to encourage development in an area by redirecting additional tax dollars generated, usually by increasing property values, in a specific region toward a specific project.
A home valued at the median of $264,500 in 2020, that also increased in value to the 2021 median of $281,500, should see an increase of 1.2 percent on its property taxes from the city.
See more at minneapolismn.gov/community-safety/ and see the entire 2021 budget at minneapolismn.gov.