Policing dominated public input, as the Minneapolis City Council met Wednesday night to approve a budget for 2019. The council voted 12-1 in favor of the $1.6 billion spending plan.
The majority of people who testified during the final city budget hearing focused on funding for the city's Police Department. Specifically, hearing participants weighed in on a budget amendment that shifts $1.1 million from the Police Department and funnels it toward community-based public safety initiatives. Authors of the amendment say it will not reduce the number of sworn officers on the street.
Many opponents of the transfer of money from the police budget worried that the move would make some neighborhoods less safe. More than a dozen East African immigrants testified that the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has more criminal activity. And they asked for additional officers, especially those who are Somali, to be assigned there.
Others testified the shift would damage police-community relations and hamper police efforts to better train officers.
Clarence Castile, whose nephew Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer in 2016, cautioned the council not to take money away from the Police Department.
"Being the uncle of Philando Castile, I've seen what it can be like for a cop to be overworked, stressed out on his job, afraid or under-trained," said Castile, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to the state's POST Board last year. "These are the symptoms of a department that's under budget. Council people, if you continue to cut the budget of the Minneapolis Police Department, these are some of the things you may face in the future."
Castile and others expressed confidence in Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo's ability to improve public safety while also bolstering trust of police among communities of color. And they pleaded with council members to give Arradondo, the city's first black police chief, the money he needs to do that.
The amendment eliminates an initiative to "civilianize existing sworn positions," removing the funds for eight civilian employees from the department. The $1.1 million from the initiative would be spread out over a number of different programs, including a new Office of Violence Prevention.
The change would provide ongoing funding for youth outreach, the Office of Police Conduct Review and a department program that pairs officers with mental health professionals.
Members of the group Reclaim the Block had called for a larger chunk of money to be shifted out of the police budget. Several who testified Wednesday said the adjustment is a start, but it's far from the 5 percent divestment from the department they've been calling for.
Kandace Montgomery asked city leaders and residents to see public safety as more than having more officers on the street.
"And it's sad to think about folks really saying, 'oh, this is an attack on a black police chief,' " said Montgomery. "When we actually know that this is an issue that is connected to a larger set of systems and problems."
Council Member Andrew Johnson added an amendment to create a work group of staff and citizens to look at alternatives to involving police in every emergency call.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham praised the idea.
"I have talked to officers, including leadership at the 4th Precinct," said Cunningham. "And they don't feel comfortable with being the go-to for mental health crises. They would like to have other options."
That amendment passed unanimously.
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