The Minneapolis City Council has rejected a bid submitted by the mayor and police chief to offer retention and recruitment sign-on bonuses for city police officers and new hires.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Brian O’Hara came forward last week with a plan to spend $15 million in an effort to retain officers currently on the force and to offer incentive bonuses for new hires.
However, the plan came crashing down not once but twice in the days that followed: first by the City Council Budget Committee, which refused through a vote to even add the walk-on proposal to the agenda for discussion last Tuesday, and again on Friday after a special meeting of the City Council was called by Mayor Frey.
The deal was negotiated by the mayor and the chief in an agreement with the police union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which is also in active negotiations with the city over the police contract that expired at the end of last year.
The police department is currently at historically low staffing numbers with just over 500 sworn officers as of October, which is down from a 2019 staffing level of 888. Meanwhile, many categories of crime continue to skyrocket over pre-pandemic and pre-George Floyd levels in the city including shootings, shots fired, auto thefts, carjackings, and homicides.
The mayor and chief’s plan involved retention bonuses of $18,000 to be paid over the course of two-and-a-half years for current eligible officers and $15,000 sign-on bonuses for eligible new hires.
The proposed $15 million is part of a $19 million one-time allocation by the state legislature to Minneapolis for public safety.
Budget Committee Chair Emily Koski (Ward 11) led the charge on Tuesday to reject even hearing the retention bonus proposal in committee, claiming she’s been asking the mayor for months to present proposals for the $19 million in public safety funding provided by the state, but the mayor and chief chose to “wait until the last second,” she said. Koski also stated that she previously indicated to the mayor that the budget committee would likely not support the majority of the money being spent on retention and sign-on incentives for MPD. The committee voted 7-5 to reject placing the proposal on the agenda on Tuesday.
Following that rejection, Mayor Frey called for an emergency City Council meeting on Friday to again push the proposal for a vote before the council.
A presentation by city staff to the council on Friday reiterated that the Minnesota Supreme Court found as a result of a 2020 lawsuit filed by eight north Minneapolis residents over police staffing that the mayor has a “clear legal duty to employ at least 731” officers, and the City Council has a “clear legal duty to fund” them under the City Charter.
Presenter Nikki Odom of the City of Minneapolis Human Resources Department said that the city has reached a “critically low” level of police staffing and that since 2021, 71% of the workforce has left the department, which now has a vacancy rate of 38%.
Odom added that hundreds of officers will be eligible for retirement or early retirement within the next five years, including up to 168 who are currently eligible for either retirement or early retirement in the coming year.
The $15 million expense in incentive pay is accounted for in the mayor’s 2024 recommended budget and would cover the incentive payment costs for a projected fully-staffed police force of 731 by 2028, Odom said. There are some parameters placed on the funds for eligible uses, but incentive pay falls within “personnel costs,” which would meet the usage guidelines, another staff member stated.
At one point in the meeting, Council Member Jeremiah Ellison tried to suggest that the state Supreme Court’s ruling on mandating the 731 police staffing number may not be valid because the lawsuit was technically dropped following the ruling. However, City Attorney Kristyn Anderson clarified that the court’s ruling is valid, and that the lawsuit merely “ended” after the ruling but before it was remanded back to the district court for determination on whether there would be further action related to not meeting the staffing mandate.
Mayor Frey addressed the council with urgency to approve the incentive plan, insisting that Minneapolis needs to be competitive for retainment and recruitment of officers with surrounding jurisdictions as well as other agencies nationally.
About halfway through the two-and-a-half hour meeting, Chief O’Hara gave an impassioned response to Council Member Latrisha Vetaw’s support for the proposal during which she lamented the lack of adequate police staffing to patrol hotspot areas where eventual shootings and homicides occur, many involving children or young people.
Chief O’Hara said he was at the recent shooting homicide scene on Glenwood and Newton avenues north where a 21-year-old was shot in the face and killed. He said in the last week there have been 16 shootings and 26 so far this month. O’Hara said there are six MPD investigators for shootings and eight for homicides, two of whom are retiring. He indicated that the limited number of investigators have very little time to spend on individual cases, which ultimately affects the residents of the city and the police service they receive, especially in communities that are most vulnerable.
O’Hara said that because of the staffing shortage and impending retirements, there are inevitably things the department is not going to be able to do in the coming year. “We have not stopped getting smaller,” he said.
It “puts us in this vicious cycle” of not enough people, too much overtime causing burnout, and community dissatisfaction, which results in fewer people from the community wanting to become cops, he said.
In the end, the arguments in support of the retention and hiring bonus proposal were not strong enough to sway the opposing members of the council to change their stance, and the measure was rejected again in an 8-5 vote.
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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.