Minneapolis approves cuts to police budget, not staffing

Midwest

Police officers line up alongside interstate 94 blocked by protestors marching against racism and issues with the presidential election in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 4, 2020. (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a budget early Thursday that will shift about $8 million from the police department toward violence prevention and other services – but will keep the mayor’s targeted staffing levels for sworn officers intact in hopes of averting a possible veto.

Mayor Jacob Frey, who had threatened to veto the entire budget if the council went ahead with its plan to cap police staffing, said the vote was a defining moment for the city, which has experienced soaring crime rates amid calls to defund the police since the May 25 death of George Floyd.

“We all share a deep and abiding reverence for the role our local government plays in service of the people of our city,” Frey said. “And today, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future in Minneapolis.”

The City Council had initially proposed to cut the city’s authorized police force to 750 officers, down from the current 888, beginning in 2022. But they backtracked on that plan late Wednesday after the mayor called it “irresponsible.” The council voted 7-6 to remove language that lowered the cap.

Supporters call the City Council’s plan “Safety for All,” the latest version of the “defund the police” movement that Minneapolis and other cities have considered since Floyd’s death ignited mass demonstrations against police brutality and a nationwide reckoning with racism.

The plan cuts nearly $8 million from Mayor Jacob Frey’s $179 million policing budget and redirects it to mental health teams, violence prevention programs and other initiatives.

More than 300 Minneapolis residents signed up to speak about the proposal Wednesday, with some pleading for City Council members to deliver the reforms they promised after Floyd’s death, and others warning it would be irresponsible to cut officers.

Some in favor of the plan called police officers cowards, gang members, white supremacists or terrorists. They spoke about violence that African Americans and other minorities have experienced at the hands of police. Those against the plan said the City Council was acting irresponsibly and has bungled its attempts to bring change. They cited increasing violence, saying they don’t feel safe.

“The place I grew up this summer burned,” said Will Roberts, who grew up in the Longfellow neighborhood. “And it burned because of police misconduct.” He called the police department a “violent, occupying source,” saying, “it’s incumbent upon us as residents of this city to change that.”

Loraine Teel, of south Minneapolis, said she supports the mayor’s position, telling council members: “You cannot achieve reform without a plan that includes the cooperation of those being reformed … You have failed miserably.”

Cities around the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York City and Portland, Oregon, are shifting funds from police departments to social services programs in an effort to provide new solutions for problems traditionally handled by police. Such cuts have led some departments to lay off officers, cancel recruiting classes or retreat from hiring goals.

In Minneapolis, violent crime rates have increased since the death of Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and pleading for air for several minutes while Derek Chauvin, a white former officer, pressed his knee against his neck. Chauvin and three others were charged in Floyd’s death and are expected to stand trial in March.

Police have recorded 532 gunshot victims this year as of last Thursday, more than double the same period a year ago. Carjackings have also spiked to 375 so far this year, up 331% from the same period last year. Violent crimes have topped 5,100, compared with just over 4,000 for the same period in 2019.

“This summer happened because George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department and it wasn’t an accident, it’s because the system of policing we know now is not just racist, but it doesn’t create safety for all,” said Oluchi Omeoga, a cofounder of Black Visions, which supports “Safety for All” as a step toward more transformational change.

Due to austerity forced by the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor’s proposal already includes a $14 million cut to the department compared with its original 2020 budget, mostly through attrition. Frey aims to hold the number of sworn officers around 770 through 2021 with hopes of eventually increasing the force to its current authorized cap of 888. “Safety for All” would cap the number at 750 by 2022. The department is already down by about 120 – partly due to officers claiming post-traumatic stress disorder from a summer of unrest – with more preparing to leave amid retirements and poor morale.

“I think we need to make bold decisions on a path forward,” said Council Member Steve Fletcher, a co-author of the proposal to reduce police staffing. While acknowledging that it would mean fewer officers, he said it would reduce the department’s workload by shifting 911 calls away from armed officers to other specialists such as mental health professionals.

“Combined those investments add up to a safer city for everybody and an approach that creates a more sustainable public safety system for our city,” Fletcher said in an interview.

But Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have said there’s no need for an either-or decision — that it’s possible to reform policing without cutting officers. The mayor and 12 of the 13 council members are Democrats; one council member is from the Green Party.

A proposal over the summer to dismantle the department and replace it with a “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention” initially had support from a majority of the council but faltered when a separate city commission voted against putting it on the November ballot. The city was paying $4,500 a day at one point for private security for three council members who reported getting threats after supporting defunding.

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