Minneapolis is planning to spend $6.4 million to hire dozens of police officers, at a time when some City Council members and activist groups have been advocating to replace the police department following George Floyd's death.
The City Council voted unanimously Friday to approve the additional funding that police requested. The department says it only has 638 officers available to work — roughly 200 fewer than usual. An unprecedented number of officers quit or went on extended medical leave after Floyd's death and the unrest that followed, which included the burning of a police precinct.
With new recruit classes, the city anticipates it will have 674 officers available at the end of the year, with another 28 in the hiring process, the Star Tribune newspaper reported.
Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died in police custody May 25 after former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck even as he said he couldn't breathe. Floyd's death sparked protests and led to a nationwide reckoning on race. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and is scheduled for trial March 8. Three other former officers are charged with aiding and abetting, and they are scheduled for trial in August.
While there have been calls to dismantle the department after Floyd's death, some residents have begged the city to hire more officers, citing longer response times and an increase in violent crime.
Days before the City Council vote, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo promised to update the application process for police recruits to include questions about whether they have lived in Minneapolis, have degrees in criminology, social work, psychology or counseling, and whether they volunteer or participate in programs such as the Police Activities League.
Deputy Police Chief Amelia Huffman said they hope the change “will help us to really feel confident that we are recruiting the kinds of candidates we want right from the beginning."
Meanwhile, three City Council members have proposed replacing the police department with a public safety department that would include law enforcement and other services. Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of local community groups, is also collecting signatures to try to get a similar proposal on the November ballot.
The Star Tribune reported the Yes 4 Minneapolis committee is being fueled by a half-million-dollar grant from the Washington, D.C.-based group Open Society Policy Center, which is associated with billionaire George Soros. Organizers hope to collect 20,000 signatures by March 31.
“We have a policing system that doesn't work for us and we need alternatives,” said Rachel Bean, who signed the petition Saturday. “I'm a social worker and I feel like we have lots of tools that we could try to create more community safety."
The petition would remove police department language from the city's charter and create a public health-focused Department of Public Safety, "including licensed peace officers, if necessary, to fulfill the responsibilities of the department."