Minneapolis Eyes Deep Police Cuts as Crime Spirals Out of Control

(Headline USA) Minneapolis City Council members who tried unsuccessfully to dismantle the police department in response to George Floyd‘s death are voting Wednesday on whether to shrink it, a move that could imperil the entire city budget because the mayor is threatening to use his veto to protect public safety amid soaring crime rates.

The plan, which supporters call “Safety for All,” is the latest version of the “defund the police” movement that Minneapolis and other cities have considered since Floyd’s May 25 death ignited mass demonstrations against police brutality.

Eleven of the 13 council members have already cast committee votes in favor of the largest parts of the plan, signaling that passage is likely. It would cut nearly $8 million from Mayor Jacob Frey’s $179 million policing budget and redirect it to mental health teams, violence prevention programs and other initiatives.

“I am actively considering a veto due to the massive, permanent cut to officer capacity,” Frey said in a statement Monday night. Reducing the authorized size of the force by 138 officers before enacting alternatives is ”irresponsible,” he said.

Cities around the U.S., including Los Angeles, New York City and Portland, Oregon, are shifting funds from police departments to social services programs in an effort to provide new solutions for problems traditionally handled by police. Such cuts have led some departments to lay off officers, cancel recruiting classes or retreat from hiring goals.

In Minneapolis, violent crime rates have surged since the death of Floyd, a black man who was handcuffed and pleading for air for several minutes while Derek Chauvin, a former officer, pressed his knee against his neck. Chauvin and three others were charged in Floyd’s death and are expected to stand trial in March.

Police have recorded 532 gunshot victims this year as of last Thursday, more than double the same period a year ago. Carjackings have also spiked to 375 so far this year, up 331% from the same period last year. Violent crimes have topped 5,100, compared with just over 4,000 for the same period in 2019.

“This summer happened because George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department and it wasn’t an accident, it’s because the system of policing we know now is not just racist, but it doesn’t create safety for all,” said Oluchi Omeoga, a cofounder of Black Visions, which supports “Safety for All” as a step toward more transformational change.

Due to austerity forced by the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor’s proposal already bakes in a $14 million cut to the department compared with its original 2020 budget, mostly through attrition. Frey aims to hold the number of sworn officers around 770 through 2021 with hopes of eventually increasing the force to its current authorized cap of 888. “Safety for All” would cap the number at 750 by 2022. The department is already down by about 120 — partly due to officers claiming post-traumatic stress disorder from a summer of unrest — with more preparing to leave amid retirements and poor morale.

Passions ran hot on both sides as more than 400 citizens signed up to speak during a marathon hearing last week that ran into the early hours Thursday, with many expressing alarm that the council was even contemplating cuts.

“I think we need to make bold decisions on a path forward,” said Council Member Steve Fletcher, a coauthor of the proposal. While acknowledging that it would mean fewer officers, he defended the plan by saying it would reduce the department’s workload by shifting 911 calls away from armed officers to other specialists such as mental health professionals.

“Combined those investments add up to a safer city for everybody and an approach that creates a more sustainable public safety system for our city,” Fletcher said, without evidence, in an interview.

On the other side are those like Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo who say there’s no need for an either-or decision — that it’s possible to reform policing without cutting officers. The mayor and 12 of the 13 council members are Democrats; one council member is from the Green Party.

If the council approves the plan Wednesday night, Frey would have five days to veto if he chooses. The council could override him with a two-thirds majority, or nine council members, but it’s not clear whether those nine votes exist. The proposal to cap the number of officers passed with just 7 of 13 votes in committee Monday.

Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.