Mpls. residents who sued city for more cops will have their day at the MN Supreme Court

Plaintiffs asked for review after an appellate panel reversed an initial victory in district court earlier this year

The Minnesota Supreme Court will review a decision by a lower court over requiring the City of Minneapolis to maintain a minimum level of 731 police officers by the end of June.

In 2021, a Hennepin County judge sided with a group of north Minneapolis residents who sued the city, saying it failed to meet the minimum staffing required for the MPD as established in the charter.

In March, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed that decision. 

In its reversal, the three-judge panel said the charter requires the city council to "continuously fund" a police force of a minimum size, but said there is "no clear duty under the charter for the mayor to continuously employ" that minimum number.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

The residents vowed to appeal to the state’s supreme court following the panel’s decision.

They filed the lawsuit in August of 2020 as community activists, as well as members of the city council, called for replacing the Minneapolis police department with a new agency following the murder of George Floyd. The number of officers dwindled while gun violence and homicides increased sharply compared to the previous year. Plaintiffs said they were directly impacted by the rise in crime in their neighborhoods and they said the diminishing number of officers was partially responsible.

Attorney Doug Seaton of the Upper Midwest Law Center represents the plaintiffs.

“We are glad the Supreme Court sees this as an important case that they should take on, and our clients are elated by that,” Seaton said. “They have neighbors that are leaving because they are so frustrated and frightened by the violence that’s been continuing for the past two years.” 

Seaton said if the Minnesota Supreme Court sides with plaintiffs, the city will have to explain why they have not been able to reach the required number of officers by June 30, if that is the case at that time. From there, the Court could impose sanctions or other requirements.

Minneapolis police did not provide the number of officers it is looking to hire or how close the department is to 731.

Minneapolis Police Department Chief of Staff Christopher Gaiters leads recruitment efforts for the department. Gaiters said the department is authorized to have 888 sworn officers, which is his ultimate goal.

“Individuals who have great character, that’s primary,” Gaiters said. 

Gaiters said while there are shorter and longer term paths to becoming a police officer, the fastest way to get more officers is through lateral hires from other agencies. Gaiters said those officers would still undergo background checks and have to meet the criteria to be hired on.

Gaiters said new officers will be encouraged to listen to critical feedback.

“That includes those who visit our city, those who conduct commerce and business within our city,” Gaiters said “It starts with listening, and it starts with listening to everyone.”

While MPD is offering hiring incentives, including a $7,000 hiring bonus, Seaton said it is too little too late.

The hearing before the Minnesota Supreme Court will take place on June 9.