Supreme Court rules Minneapolis failed to properly staff police department

The Minnesota Supreme Court found that the mayor's legal duty to "actually employ 731 sworn officers" is "clear."

Minneapolis police respond to the scene of a robbery in early November. (Kyle Hooten/Alpha News)

The Minnesota Supreme Court has sided with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the city of Minneapolis violated the law by understaffing its police department.

In an order issued Monday, the state high court concurred with the Hennepin County District Court’s ruling from last year that the Mayor has an obligation to employ a police force of 731 sworn officers — a ratio spelled out in the City Charter.

The plaintiffs in this case were eight residents of Minneapolis’ North Side, an area plagued with high crime rates and minimal police presence over the past couple years.

In March, their district court victory was overturned by a court of appeals, which argued that the Minneapolis City Council had a legal duty to fund a police force of 731 sworn officers, but the mayor did not have a duty to employ that same number.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court found that the mayor’s legal duty to “actually employ 731 sworn officers” is “clear.” The high court’s order sends the case back to the Hennepin County District Court, and also requires Mayor Frey to show “proof that the City actually employed 731 sworn officers or explain why [he] could not satisfy that duty …” His deadline to fulfill that requirement is June 30.

The district court ruling did not “improperly intrude on the mayor’s hiring discretion,” as the city claimed, because “it simply commanded him to meet his clear legal duty.”

Only 621 sworn officers, including 39 on leave, are estimated to be serving on the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), according to recent city data.

That’s down 30% from the MPD’s peak of 888 sworn officers in the summer of 2020, when riots following the death of George Floyd ravaged the Twin Cities area. In the wake of the riots, numerous officers retired, quit, or went on medical leave to seek disability benefits.

James Dickey, the attorney from the Upper Midwest Law Center who represented the eight plaintiffs, released a statement celebrating the “huge victory” for his clients and all residents of Minneapolis.

“This decision requires Mayor Frey to show that he has complied with the Charter police minimum or show why he cannot,” he said. “MPD is under the required amount by at least a hundred officers, and we look forward to seeing the evidence of what the Mayor and City Council have done to change that.”

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann also “applauded” the Supreme Court for “upholding the rule of law and the plain meaning of the Minneapolis City Charter.”

“This ruling shows yet again that Democrats need to take crime more seriously,” he said. “Republicans are making it a priority to put more police on the street and stop the crime wave that is engulfing our cities.”

Read the full ruling:

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