The Minneapolis City Council has voted to shift almost $8 million in police funding to expand other services, including violence prevention and mental health crisis response teams. But, in the face of a veto threat from the mayor, the council also voted to keep its police staffed at current levels, reversing earlier plans to cut officers from the force.
The vote on Thursday emerged from the national debate over police funding that was sparked in May by the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis officers as well as numerous similar incidents around the country. The incidents were followed by massive protests about racial injustice.
Lisa Bender, City Council president, said she's proud the council unified around a shared goal, Minnesota Public Radio reported. "It's clear to me and I think to all of us that we need to transform our system of public safety. That we cannot vacillate between police violence and community violence," Bender said.
The $8 million is a small part of the overall police budget of $179 million.
Earlier in the week, the council voted to cut the authorized police force to 750 officers from the current 888, starting in 2022. But the council then decided against the cuts after Mayor Jacob Frey said he would consider vetoing the city budget over the move. The vote was 13-0 to adopt the budget.
City Council member Steve Fletcher, who co-authored the plan to lower the cap on the police force, said the budget plan passed Thursday "represents a compromise, and also a big step forward into a more compassionate and effective public safety future," the Associated Press reported.
Ahead of the council vote, hundreds of residents signed up to speak at a hearing on the police funding issue that stretched for seven hours on Dec. 2. One of the callers was Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, who said the $8 million funding shift didn't go far enough.
"Police come after harm has happened and do nothing to change the conditions which lead to harm and violence," Rosenberg said. She said she supported a proposal to slash more than $53 million from the police department and to move the money toward health, housing and violence-prevention programs.
Others at the hearing spoke in favor of police reforms, but said that now isn't the time to cut resources.
As the AP reported:
"Some in favor of the plan called police officers cowards, gang members, white supremacists or terrorists. They spoke about violence that African Americans and other minorities have experienced at the hands of police. Those against the plan said the City Council was acting irresponsibly and has bungled its attempts to bring change. They cited increasing violence, saying they don't feel safe."
The latest vote is a long way from action the council took in June, when it unanimously voted to eliminate the police department. Under that plan, the department would have been replaced with "a department of community safety and violence prevention, which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach." The agency would have be overseen by a director with "non-law enforcement experience in community safety services."
The council's action would have allowed voters to decide on eliminating the existing funding requirement for the police department. But in August, the city's charter commission decided it needed more time to weigh the proposal. That killed any chance for the measure to appear on the November ballot.