Frey seeks eight extra MPD classes over two years to counter departure wave

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is proposing a budget aimed at returning the city's depleted police force to the court-ordered level of 731 officers sometime in 2023 as part of a realignment of public safety that he now more closely controls.

The mayor's proposal, which calls for total city spending of $1.6 billion next year and $1.7 billion the year after, has a heavy focus on public safety. Frey told City Council members there is no time to waste as a short-staffed Minneapolis Police Department tries to counter a surge in violent crime. 

Frey's plan calls for four police recruiting classes in both years after the Minneapolis Police Department's ranks fell from 900 sworn officers in early 2020 to a nadir of 564 this summer. By the end of the year, more than 400 officers will have quit since the start of 2020, MPD brass said in budget documents released after Frey spoke.

"Residents of Minneapolis are demanding results now," Frey said during his speech. "We must answer that call now."

Frey's overall budget relies on a 6.5% tax levy increase in 2023, which the mayor's office says would cost the owner of a median value home an extra $167 per year, and a 6.2% increase in 2024.

He outlined his proposal during an in-person speech after pre-recording his addresses in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts a four-month negotiation between the mayor and council over the city's spending priorities.

Last month, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered the city to employ 731 officers as required in the city charter or prove why it cannot. A group of north side residents had sued over the shrinking force level, and the city has been in mediation over the case.

The city is about to launch a marketing campaign focused on recruiting police officers, Frey said.

"The Minnesota Supreme Court re-affirmed what we already know: our city needs more police officers," he said. 

Frey has consolidated power over the city's public safety functions this summer, authority that city voters gave him in November 2021. He is bringing police, fire, 911, emergency management, and the newly formed Office of Neighborhood Safety under the oversight of the city's community safety commissioner, Cedric Alexander. The City Council approved Alexander's nomination earlier this month.

The spending plan includes $5 million to respond to a looming consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating human rights violations within the Minneapolis Police Department. A separate probe by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found the MPD engaged in a pattern of human rights violations over the past decade.

Frey's budget is an acknowledgment that the city cannot quickly solve its police staffing woes. It includes $8.6 million for police overtime and $1.5 million for contracting with outside law enforcement agencies.

MPD staffing will remain low through 2023 because of attrition and lower-than-expected hiring in 2022, the agency said in budget documents.

This summer, the state and suburban cities have assisted the depleted MPD to crack down on street racing, gang activity and violent crimes. Homicides, shooting victims and shots fired calls appear to have plateaued from a year earlier but are well above their long-run averages, police data indicate.

Community response teams and beat officers have been reassigned to 911 response. MPD now has an average of just two property crime investigators in the city's five police precincts. Command staff have reduced shift strength, leading to longer response times, the mayor's office said in budget documents.

Frey's budget also calls for upgraded software for the Minneapolis Fire Department, $8 million for street lighting replacement, and five new staff positions in the city attorney's office to handle additional criminal cases.

It seeks to double to 4,000 the number of trees planted in Minneapolis each year, a response to emerald ash borer destruction. The mayor is also endorsing 12 weeks of paid leave for city employees after the birth or adoption of a child, up from three weeks now.

Seven of the 13 City Council members will be going through the budget process for the first time after voters elected them in 2021. Council President Andrea Jenkins called Frey's overall proposal "visionary."

"We look forward to getting into the details of this proposed budget," Jenkins said.

The City Council's budget-writing committee plans to start hearing from city agencies in mid-September. The council has scheduled public hearings for Nov. 15 and Dec. 6 ahead of final votes.