Appeals court reverses order requiring Minneapolis to hire more police officers

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has struck down a court ruling requiring the City of Minneapolis to maintain a minimum level of police officers.

The ruling reverses a decision issued by a Hennepin County District judge in July, who ruled in favor of a group of police advocates, including Cathy Spann, Sondra Samuels and former city council member and now congressional candidate Don Samuels, who sued Minneapolis last August, claiming that the city had failed to maintain the number of police officers required by the city charter.

In today’s decision, Judge Jeanne M. Cochran ruled that while the charter requires the City Council to fund a minimum level of police officers, it also stipulates that the mayor is responsible for running the police department and determining staff levels. "The charter vests the mayor with the duty to establish and maintain the police department—a duty which, by its very nature, is discretionary," she wrote.  

Don Samuels said he was "disappointed" in the decision but promised they appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"The political process was not creating the kind of reaction we wanted, so we went to the courts. And fortunately, our lawyers are willing to take it to the next level on our behalf," he said.

A spokesperson with the mayor's office issued the following statement:

"Today’s decision does not change Mayor Frey’s continued work to accelerate the City’s recruitment timelines and get more community-oriented officers into the department immediately."

As of last week, MPD had 627 sworn officers, with 26 on extended leave, according to data provided by the city. That’s a decline of 281 officers from March 14 of 2020, before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest following the murder of George Floyd, when the headcount was 908 officers, with 19 on extended leave.

In the same time period, Minneapolis experienced a surge in violent crime. From May of 2020 to May of 2021, carjackings rose by 222 percent, homicides climbed by 108 percent and shootings soared by 153 percent. 

In the city’s last budget cycle, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proposed a police budget of $191 million, which was passed by the City Council. It included funding for five new police cadet classes, intended to help restore MPD staffing levels.

The judge noted the mayor's move to increase the number of police academies in the ruling, arguing that since "the mayor is actively exercising his discretion to address the shortage of sworn officers," there was no need for a mandate. 

With reporting from Paul Blume