Mpls. City Council cuts police budget, but leaves staffing levels alone

Minneapolis City Council members discuss defunding police department
Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham speaks to a crowd gathered at Powderhorn Park June 7. Cunningham is one of three council members who authored a proposal to take nearly $8 million from the police budget to spend on other public safety initiatives.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News file

The Minneapolis City Council voted 13-0 to adopt a budget that contains a controversial plan to take nearly $8 million from the Police Department to pay for crime prevention programs and initiatives in other departments, but with a key last-minute change to police staffing levels from an earlier version.

The series of cuts and transfers, called “Safety for All” by its authors, was added to the budget earlier this week.  It represents a small part of the department’s $179 million budget.

The nearly $1.5 billion overall city budget includes a property tax levy increase of 5.75 percent and includes cuts to all the city's largest departments, reflecting costs due to the pandemic.

Council President Lisa Bender said she’s proud of how the council came together, despite having disagreements, and worked toward a shared goal.

“It’s clear to me and I think to all of us that we need to transform our system of public safety. That we cannot vacillate between police violence and community violence,” said Bender. “That we must transform our system.”

The “Safety for All” amendment funds an expansion in the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, funds mental health crisis response teams and moves more than a dozen civilian employees of the Minneapolis Police Department to other departments.

Mayor Jacob Frey had threatened to veto the budget over a proposal earlier in the week that would have reduced the authorized strength of the force from 888 to 750 officers by 2022.  But the council adopted a late evening amendment to allow the department to keep that higher level.

“My colleagues were right to leave the targeted staffing level unchanged from 888 and continue moving forward with our shared priorities,” said Frey in a statement. “The additional funding for new public safety solutions will also allow the city to continue upscaling important mental health, non-police response, and social service components in our emergency response system.”

When asked if Frey would sign the budget, a spokesperson said the office would have no comment early Thursday morning.

Council members began deliberating after a five-and-a-half hour public hearing.  More than 300 people signed up to speak Wednesday night. And as with the previous hearings, the overwhelming majority of speakers focused on the police budget.

Greg King was one of many calling on council members to stick to their pledge to remake the city’s public safety system, and he urged the council to support an even deeper cut of $53 million from the Police Department  promoted by groups including Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block. They say that shift should fund mental health, housing and community-based violence prevention programs.

“As a father of three children of color, I want to live in a city where my children get help when they suffer a mental health or addiction crisis, not be thrown into a cell or even worse, shot in the street,” King said.

Jean LaFontaine told council members he doesn’t feel safe when he goes out jogging after dark due to the presence of police officers.

“As a Puerto Rican man, there is not a day where I don’t absolutely feel terrified in this city because of the Minneapolis Police Department,” he said.

LaFontaine commended the council for taking gradual steps toward reform, but he said they need to follow through on their promise to transform public safety in order “for us to be able to move toward a society in this city where Black and brown people, such as myself are valued and taken care of.”

Other callers told council members they didn’t feel that now was a good time to make big changes to the department.  Paula Keller was glad to hear a variety of options to address rising crime.

“I believe there are good intentions on all sides. We all know change is absolutely necessary and it must happen,” Keller said. “The details for the proposed changes are vague. In the middle of a crime wave that makes me uneasy.”

One of the northside residents suing the city over police staffing, Sondra Samuels, said many African Americans like her oppose the council’s plans to strip resources from the Police Department. She said it’s possible to both reform the department while also keeping Black communities safe.

“The ‘Safety for All’ budget will dismantle our police force and our city,” said Samuels.  

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