The Minneapolis City Council, which tried and failed to dismantle the police department in the wake of George Floyd's death, voted early Thursday to shift nearly $8 million from next year's police budget to other city services as part of an effort to "transform" public safety in the city.
The controversial plan was approved unanimously as part of the city's 2021 budget.
Mayor Jacob Frey had earlier threatened a veto to the budget, calling the police cuts "irresponsible" as the city confronts an unprecedented wave of violence and scores of police officer departures since Floyd's death that have left the department struggling to respond to emergencies.
But in a statement early Thursday, Frey praised the council for removing language that would have permanently shrunk the size of the force by about 130 officers in what he described as a "defining moment for our city."
Council members who supported the "Safety for All" plan argued the city could no longer tolerate what they described as a broken system of policing and a department that has been resistant to reform.
“Believe me, this is not an easy vote to take, but I believe it is right,” said Andrea Jenkins, a council member who represents an area of South Minneapolis adjacent to the street corner where Floyd was killed.
The vote came after days of contentious public hearings and deeply emotional debate among council members, who have openly struggled to balance concern about historically high crime across Minneapolis against public calls to reform a police department that has long been accused of racism and excessive force, especially against residents of color.
The budget fight unfolded six months after Floyd’s death, which sparked worldwide protests and a national reckoning on issues of race, social justice and policing.
The 46-year-old Black man died after being handcuffed and restrained face down on a South Minneapolis street by police responding to a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill that had been passed at a local convenience store. Following a struggle, then-Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man repeatedly complained of struggling to breathe.
Chauvin, who was with the department for 19 years, has been charged with murder, and three other officers at the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — have been charged with aiding and abetting. All four were fired from the police department and are scheduled to go on trial in March.
In June, days after Floyd’s killing, a majority of the city council promised to defund and dismantle the department and replace it with a new agency focused on a mix of public safety and violence prevention. But some elected leaders have backed off those promises in recent months.
“If we’re considering taking everything out of MPD that’s not an officer with a gun, I don’t believe in that,” Alondra Cano, a council member whose district includes the South Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed, said during a hearing Monday.
Frey had proposed a $179 million police budget for 2021, a cut of approximately $14 million from the approved 2020 budget because of declining city revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic. But under the budget approved Thursday, the council would divert $7.7 million from law enforcement to fund alternatives to policing, including mental health crisis teams and additional staffers in the city’s office of violence prevention.
About $5 million of that money came from cuts to a budget for police overtime — a move that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo had strongly discouraged, calling overtime a “necessity” for the department as it copes with staffing shortages and prepares for the trial of the four former police officers charged in Floyd’s death.
The department had been funded for about 880 officers in 2020. But Arradondo told council members Monday that, as of Dec. 1, the agency was down 166 officers — some of whom have permanently left the force and others who have been out on long-term medical leave, many citing post-traumatic stress disorder from the civil unrest that erupted after Floyd’s death.
In a last-minute debate, council members rejected a motion that would have reduced the number of full-time officers to 750 — essentially not replacing the officers who have left. Supporters argued that the amendment would simply take the open positions off the books, as the staffing shortage is unlikely to be solved in the coming year.
“It’s not possible to magically recruit more officers,” said Steve Fletcher, a council member who represents part of downtown Minneapolis. “Open positions do not solve crimes. Open positions do not write tickets. Open positions do not prevent anything. They do not deter anything. They do not create a sense of safety.”
Under the budget plan approved early Thursday, the council set up an $11.4 million reserve fund that would include about $6 million Frey had budgeted for two future recruiting classes, as well as an additional $5 million for police overtime. The police department would have to get city council approval to access the funds — an effort to increase accountability for the department, council members said.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, council members, meeting in a virtual hearing because of the pandemic, heard hours of testimony from hundreds of Minneapolis residents who phoned in their comments about the proposed cuts.
Many invoked Floyd’s police custody death to argue for reduced funding for an agency they said cannot be reformed. Many callers who identified themselves as residents of the South Minneapolis neighborhoods that were burned and destroyed during the civil unrest that erupted after Floyd’s killing blamed police for inflaming the protests and doing little to stop the looting and burning of businesses.
“The actions of the MPD after George Floyd just showed to me how the MPD is irredeemable,” a South Minneapolis resident named Paul, who gave no last name, told the council. “They don’t care about us. They all live in the suburbs, and they don’t prevent any crime. All they do is escalate the situation.”
Others accused the council of acting rashly by reducing funding for the department at a crucial moment in the city and without proof that the alternative policing methods it is embracing will work quickly enough to contain the surging crime and violence.
Doug Tanner, a resident of South Minneapolis, told council members his wife had been carjacked, robbed and assaulted.
“The fact that this council does not even acknowledge there is a problem is irresponsible,” he said. “The crime rate is at an all-time high, and you want less cops on the street. Where does common sense come into the equation?”
Homicides in Minneapolis are up more than 50 percent, with nearly 80 people killed across the city so far this year. Nearly 530 people have been shot, the highest number in more than a decade and twice as many as in 2019. And there have been more than 4,600 violent crimes — including hundreds of carjackings and robberies — a five-year high.