James Dickey: The Minneapolis City Council refuses to deal in reality

The bleak outlook for the Minneapolis Police Department and the people of Minneapolis is unquestionably caused by the City Council’s irrational hatred for law enforcement and refusal to deal in reality.

Minnesota Law Weekly/Alpha News

Many eyes have been directed at chaos around the world and failed attempts to remove Donald Trump from presidential ballots, but one local item has also featured in the news: the Minneapolis City Council’s utter failure to fund the Minneapolis police force.

As many of you already know, back in 2020, we at the Upper Midwest Law Center brought a lawsuit called Spann v. Minneapolis City Council against the defunding and dismantling of the Minneapolis police. After two years of hard-fought litigation, we won the legal victory against any actions by the mayor to dismantle the police department. It was a unanimous 7-0 victory for us and our clients in the Minnesota Supreme Court, and as a result of that lawsuit, Mayor Frey proposed tens of millions of dollars to be added to the budget.

At that point, the City had claimed that it was funding at least 731 officer spots based on its own budget assumptions, so the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed their funding arrangement to continue as it was. It was our hope and expectation that given the mayor’s requirement to do everything in his power to fund the police, and with tens of millions of new dollars now in the bank, the city’s newly increased funding would be adequate to rebuild the officer corps.

But it appears to us now, a year later, that the city’s continued demoralization of the police force has simply increased the cost of having enough officers. The City Council’s budget people simply have wrong assumptions about how much it costs to have a police force in Minneapolis. Recent reports show that the MPD’s officer strength is still far below the minimum — 512, when 731 are required. And we are not aware of any additional spending or other effort that the city has made to make good on its legal obligations to fix the problem.

Instead, a radical City Council has recently rejected an effort spearheaded by the MPD and the mayor to offer signing and retention bonuses to keep veteran officers and bring in new ones. This was something the chief said was essential to bringing in enough officers. He said that the MPD is “at such a critical point. This is really beyond words.” He also said that the City Council was “playing politics with public safety” and reminded them of the real costs of their foolishness: “You have too many people dying.”

The bleak outlook for the Minneapolis Police Department and the people of Minneapolis is unquestionably caused by the City Council’s irrational hatred for law enforcement and refusal to deal in reality. Now that they have allowed their officer corps to decline by one-third and demonized the police at every opportunity, they have made it nearly impossible to rebuild the MPD absent radical funding changes.

As WCCO has reported, Minneapolis isn’t even close to a top paying police job in the Twin Cities metro. Minneapolis is number 18 in starting pay. Minneapolis is 21st in paying veteran officers. New officers in Blaine make about $22,000 a year more than Minneapolis. Veteran officers in Inver Grove Heights make about $9,000 more than Minneapolis.  If you were a new officer, which would you choose: less pay for more dangerous work, or the opposite? The problem and solution are clear, but they require immediate and radical action.

Perhaps most troubling, at one point during the consideration of the new bonuses to retain and attract new officers, Council Member Jeremiah Ellison even questioned whether the city has to pay any attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in our Spann lawsuit. In other words, he questioned whether the City Council has to comply with the charter.

The answer is that they do have to comply with the charter. The charter requires the city to adequately fund at least 731 officers based on the 2020 U.S. Census. They don’t have 731, and their efforts over the last year have been insufficient. This is unacceptable to the thousands of Minneapolitans who can’t afford personal security whose neighborhoods, like our clients on the North Side, are being continually ripped apart by increased crime. No reasonable person could reject significant proposals in new funding at this point.

We expect that any expert in police staffing and market research would tell a court that as well. And it may just be that yet another lawsuit is required to ensure the City Council understands their legal obligations to their constituents. We at UMLC are ready to proceed with just such a lawsuit absent radical change by the City Council.


James Dickey