Community shares perspectives on proposed Minneapolis police contract, historic pay raises

Dozens of residents packed the Minneapolis City Council chambers Monday to discuss a new police contract that would grant officers historic wage increases, with some saying depleted police ranks have contributed to a perception of lawlessness and rising fear in their neighborhoods while others called the deal expensive and unearned.

The proposed contract would guarantee a nearly 22% pay raise for veteran officers by next summer and boost starting salaries for rookies to more than $90,000 a year — putting Minneapolis among the top three highest-paid departments in the state and surpassing comparable wage schedules of some of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies. The contract would also expand managerial oversight of the force, whose numbers stand at their lowest level in four decades.

For weeks, as local officials weighed whether to approve the contract, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Brian O’Hara have cast the raises as critical to attracting quality recruits, retaining experienced officers and restoring public trust amid court-mandated reforms meant to overhaul the agency in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

A number of the residents who attended Monday’s meeting, the second public hearing on the question, said it’s past time for action.

“I do not recognize this city any longer,” said Elise Werger, a Seward neighborhood resident whose husband and daughter were both assaulted in recent months. “Council members, your constituents are terrified — to go to work, to take a walk, to go to the store without looking over their shoulders.”

“I know the police aren’t perfect; no one would dispute that reform is needed. But we need more police, because these criminals know they can get away with it.”

But others are calling on City Council members to reject the deal, denouncing the collective-bargaining agreement as an attempt to inflate wages without upholding longstanding promises to improve police accountability.

Noah Schumacher, a lifelong Minneapolis resident, questioned whether salary bumps would result in a tangible improvement to public safety when the root issues that create the conditions for violence and crime continue to go unaddressed.

“Many have shared personal experiences. I too have been robbed, mugged and shot at — and that was pre-2020, when the police were fully staffed,” Schumacher said, noting that he has also been victimized by police. He noted the MPD has cost the city more than $71 million in police brutality settlements since 2019.

Minneapolis has also paid more than $24 million in workers’ compensation settlements to more than 150 Minneapolis police officers since June 1, 2020, according to a Star Tribune analysis. Many left the department after filing PTSD claims, contributing to a nagging staffing shortage that has shrunk the agency by 40% since May 2020 and ballooned overtime costs.

MPD has 516 sworn staff on active duty, compared to roughly 900 at its peak.

Broader city authority

Many of the city’s elected leaders long pegged the contract as an obstacle to enacting much-needed reforms, and police watchdogs argued this vote presented a chance to fix it. In the recent years, though, some top leaders— including Frey — flip-flopped by saying they believe disciplinary changes are better made through internal policies that don’t have to be negotiated with the union.

The tentative labor contract, ratified by the union in June, considerably broadens the chief’s managerial powers by providing more discretion in how and where he can move personnel, removes the 70/30 clause, which sets minimum staffing levels for certain positions, expands the number of civilian investigators in the department and raises field training officer (FTO) pay from $2,500 to $3,000 per year.

It also sheds decades of side agreements between the city and the union that effectively tied the hands of city leaders when trying to make changes. Many had no expiration dates.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the city operations officer, and City Attorney Kristyn Anderson walked council members through the new contract, emphasizing changes that give the city broader disciplinary and staffing authority.

“We want to attract, we want to retain and we want to hire the best and highest-caliber police officers that we can have in Minneapolis who are reform-minded,” Kelliher told members of the council’s Administration & Enterprise Oversight Committee on Monday.

Anderson emphasized that many reforms demanded by community members will be enforced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights agreement and pending federal consent decree with the Department of Justice.

Communities United Against Police Brutality, a grassroots police reform group, issued a rebuttal criticizing the labor contract as an unwarranted “budget-buster” that would raise property taxes and hand thousands in back pay to current and former officers, including those who cost the city millions in brutality settlements.

“Historic raises need to be earned,” said Michelle Gross, president of the advocacy group. She was also skeptical that increased base pay alone would be a fail-proof recruitment tool to rebuild MPD’s dwindling ranks.

“Culture change is far more important to new recruits than waving dollar bills around,” she said, encouraging council members to vote down the contract. “It’s more important to do this right than to do it fast. “

A showdown over the contract comes amid continued fallout from the recent line-of-duty death of Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell and the city’s projected $21.6 million budget hole, which may result in steep property tax hikes for residents.

Several speakers in favor of the contract noted that rank-and-file officers make far less than sitting council members, who don’t face the same level of risk in their professional lives.

“They do one of the most intense and high-stress jobs out there, with almost double the workload given the number of police we’re down,” said Tisa Ford, daughter of a former Minneapolis police officer. “They put their life on the line every single day when they step out.”

Minneapolis’ current police labor agreement was adopted in March 2022 after state mediation and expired Dec. 31 of that year.

The contract will cost an estimated $9.2 million in future spending above what had previously been planned for, as well as an estimated $5.5 million in back pay, which can be covered in the city’s current budget.

The 166-page agreement requires sign-off by the full City Council. The body doesn’t have the ability to propose changes to the labor agreement, only to approve or reject it. If members refuse to endorse it, the city’s labor negotiating team must return to mediation alongside the police union.

In an interview last week, Council Member Linea Palmisano said she feared if the contract moved to binding arbitration, the city could risk losing some hard-fought provisions.

“They’re going to get most of this money, if not all of it, through arbitration and we’re not going to get anything back in terms of management rights,” she said. “I think that people who are looking for full-on police transformation are not going to be satisfied with a labor contract, because it doesn’t really have the tools for that.”

The council is expected to formally vote on the matter July 18.

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