Police funding front and center at Minneapolis budget hearing 

Police in uniform raise their right hands.
New police officers raise their hands to take an oath at a Minneapolis Police Academy graduation ceremony at the Minneapolis Convention Center on July 17. During a nearly five-hour long public hearing, Minneapolis City Council members heard passionate testimony from residents to either support or defund the police department.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

The hearing was scheduled to take public testimony via telephone on the entirety of Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed 2021 budget, but for nearly five hours callers focused almost exclusively on the $179 million allocated to the police department.

Some residents who urged the Minneapolis City Council to maintain or even increase the police budget said they’ve never seen crime as bad as it is this year. More than 500 people have been wounded by gunfire and the number of homicides has long surpassed the number of killings in all of 2019.

Monica Nilsson is the executive director of Haven Housing, which serves women and their families in north Minneapolis. She said the sound of gunfire near the organization’s offices is all too common. 

“Children flee the playground or hit the ground on a Sunday afternoon as men give chase down the alley and gunshots ring out,” she said. 

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It doesn’t quiet down when she gets home. Nilsson lives one block from the south Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was killed by police in May, sparking protests around the world. Nilsson said she’s often awakened by the sound of gunshots. She hopes to sell her house within the year. 

“I implore you not to further reduce the budget of the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said.

Many others expressed similar sentiments, including residents of neighborhoods that haven’t traditionally seen similar levels of robberies, carjackings and assaults as they’re seeing now. They fear that as residents flee to the suburbs businesses will follow, causing the city’s tax base to crater.

But other callers pushed back on the notion that more police will make the city safer. And some, like Kirsten McConnell said police make the city less safe for Black and indigenous residents. She asked the council to use the money for the police budget for other programs.

“Reallocate that funding towards housing and food outreach,” she said.  “Fund restorative justice programs and independent mental health responders so we can address the root of crime without the risk of citizens being killed by MPD in the process.” 

The mayor's recommended 2021 budget includes cuts for departments across the board, including the police

Council members will have the opportunity to amend Mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed 2021 budget as the mark-up process in December. However, last week the council narrowly approved nearly $500,000 to pay for Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies and Metro Transit Police officers to reinforce MPD officers. 

There will be two more public hearings before the council votes on the budget Dec. 9.