MINNEAPOLIS — Funding for the Minneapolis Police Department has emerged as a contentious issue once again during the city's 2023 budget process, with the city council offering cuts to Mayor Jacob Frey's proposed budget during a committee meeting on Thursday.
Council members authored a series of amendments that would shift $762,000 in ongoing MPD funding toward other city departments, including five full-time civilian positions. For example, the council voted overwhelmingly to move two MPD positions into the Internal Audit Division to serve as public safety auditors, which Ward 11 Council Member Emily Koski argued could "serve as an institutional check and balance on the executive branch's authority over public safety operations."
Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson, meanwhile, authored an amendment to move three non-sworn MPD civilians into the Office of Performance and Innovation, which consults across city departments to reduce racial disparities.
"We're all very sensitive to making sure there's enough funding in the Minneapolis Police Department budget to do the work, but there's also a lot of other departments that are supporting efforts around public safety," Johnson said in an interview. "In fact, the three positions that went over to the Office of Performance Management and Innovation, that department has already saved -- just with one of their efforts -- 55 to 80 officers' worth of work for the department, freeing up our officers to actually respond to 911 calls where they're needed."
Mayor Frey sharply criticized the council's approach, noting that MPD remains hundreds of officers short of authorized strength. In his budget, Frey proposed about $195 million for the police department, an increase of nearly $9 million from the 2022 adopted budget.
"When civilians are cut from MPD -- and they certainly were in this instance -- that requires police officers to do that same work. That requires us to take a police officer off the street," Frey said. "We can't be pulling an officer off the street, to do the work that should be done by a civilian."
New MPD Chief Brian O'Hara also expressed his concerns directly on the floor of city council chambers, before later joining Frey for a news conference. O'Hara, who oversaw the implementation of a consent decree while working in Newark, N.J., said the proposed cuts to MPD could undermine the department as it prepares to face similar action from the DOJ next year.
"A consent decree alone is a gargantuan task. We know consent decrees will literally cost the city millions of dollars just to be monitored. That's not a penny toward actually doing anything to implement the change that the people of this city demanded yesterday," O'Hara said. "We need to be prepared for a consent decree before we sign the agreement. That means we need to be able to hire people beforehand, get them on-boarded, get them on staff, get them trained, and actually begin the work of police reform."
During council discussion on Thursday, the issue of the consent decree surfaced on numerous occasions.
Council Member Johnson noted that the budget already includes $2 million to help fund the consent decree. He also said the city's contingency funds could cover costs.
"We've frankly spent tens of millions of dollars already for police-related expenses that were not expected, after the murder of George Floyd. We will continue to fund the efforts around the consent decree, because that's critical work," Johnson said. "But right now we don't know what those expenses are going to be."
Following Thursday's budget meeting, the council plans to approve the final document next week. After that, the budget goes to Mayor Frey's desk for approval. While the mayor does not have the power to veto individual portions of the budget, he could veto the entire document if he chooses.
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