Court orders Minneapolis to employ a minimum of 731 police officers

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered Minneapolis to immediately hire more police officers or prove why it can't.

The city charter gives Mayor Jacob Frey a "clear legal duty" to maintain at least 731 officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, justices wrote in their Monday afternoon order. They returned the case to a Hennepin County judge to handle the details and set a date for the city to provide evidence of its staffing efforts.

In keeping with the court's usual practice, only Chief Justice Lorie Gildea signed the order. The court does not release how the other six justices came down.

The order follows a lawsuit filed by eight northside residents in 2020 as MPD's sworn ranks plunged following the police murder of George Floyd. The city had just 621 officers in late May - 110 below its staffing requirement. 

"This is a huge victory for our clients and the residents of Minneapolis," James Dickey, the plaintiffs' attorney, said in an email. "MPD is under the required amount by at least 100 officers, and we look forward to seeing the evidence of what the mayor and City Council have done to change that."

The Supreme Court removed the City Council from the case because the council had included adequate funding in the 2022 budget for the minimum number of officers. Justices also said the lower court judge cannot control how Frey staffs up the police department through a consent decree.

During oral arguments, Minneapolis's attorney acknowledged that the city needs more police officers but argued that Frey has discretion over hiring and training.

Frey has pledged to hire more officers through additional recruiting classes. He has previously said that the city's work is challenging because of a national shortage of people who want to become police officers.

"We are still reviewing the full impact of this order and will be prepared to appear in district court," said interim City Attorney Peter Ginder in a statement following the announcement. "Over the last two years, the Minneapolis Police Department has lost almost 300 peace officers. This is an unprecedented loss of personnel that is not easily corrected. Mayor Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis Police Department, and City are working in good faith to recruit and hire more community oriented peace officers as quickly as reasonably possible. From additional funding for recruit classes and officer wellness programming to hiring bonuses, the City is continuing to work to rebuild the police force to full strength." 

The case got to the state Supreme Court after Hennepin County District Court Judge Jamie Anderson sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the city to increase hiring, only to be reversed by the state Court of Appeals. 

The charter requires that the City Council fund a police force based on a ratio of officers to city residents. That number is currently 731, based on the 2020 Census results. MPD has not had that many police officers since April 2021, records indicate.

MPD's sworn ranks reached a low of 614 officers in early May, down from more than 900 in early 2020, according to city records.