Ababiy: Minneapolis’ 2019 policing budget looks promising

With an emphasis on community policing, the city looks to the future.

by Jonathan Ababiy

In law enforcement, community and community-oriented policing have become somewhat buzzwords. Their sudden spike in use makes you wonder — was the community not involved in policing before? But the word is here to stay, and the last few years have given us a perfect opportunity to watch as the men and women of police departments, mayor’s offices and city councils have wrestled with the idea in the chambers of the stately city halls and the pothole-stricken streets of Minneapolis. 

In 2016, former Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ budget proposed adding 15 police officers to the department. Activists clamored for a stronger focus on public health, and then-Police Chief Janeé  Hearteau shared the more resources for the department will lead to reduce violence and build better relationships with the communities that officers police, according to MinnPost reporting. City Council took Heartau for her word, and approved Hodges’ budget that added the 15 officers to the City’s payroll. 

Things turned a little more tense in 2017. After mishandling the police’s response to the Jamar Clark shooting that resulted in protests for years, Harteau fumbled again by appointing a new top cop for Clark’s Fourth Precinct with only 90 minutes notice to the mayor. The cop, Lt. John Delmonico, was distrusted in the community, too. Delmonico had earlier accused a local community activist of being in a gang, and said the mayor was flashing gang signs in a picture with him, which simply showed that Hodges was pointing at the activist.

Harteau’s pick was quickly overturned by the mayor, and things got worse for the both of them. A couple of months later, Justine Damond was shot and killed while walking in an alley by Mohamed Noor, a Minneapolis police officer. While public anger mounted after the shooting became public, Harteau took four days for vacation, hiking in Colorado. Upon returning to Minneapolis, now in an international crisis, Harteau’s vacation was extended by Hodges, who demanded her resignation.

Hodges lost her election and later that year, and the City Council hired 10 more police officers for 2018.

Earlier this fall, newly elected mayor Jacob Frey’s proposed budget to the city council moved eight police officers from desk jobs to beat roles. In a speech announcing the budget, Frey praised community-oriented policing and said, “We can add capacity to our department in an innovative way,” according to MinnPost reporting. Additionally, he renominated Harteau’s replacement, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who has been relatively successful and uncontroversial so far.

This was in August, however, and Christmas has come much closer since then. Taking it upon themselves to honor the community and celebrate the holidays, a couple of police officers of the Fourth Precinct decorated a Christmas tree for their police station. Somebody saw the tree, took a picture, and soon everybody in the community knew that there were Flamin’ Hot Funyuns, Newport cigarettes, and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen ornaments on the Fourth Precinct’s tree. In Minneapolis tradition, the head of the Precinct was sacked, and the officers fired.

So, the City Council, a loud, but largely inactive spectator of the police chaos, had a lot of material to work with coming into city’s budget season over the past couple of weeks. They made a move and finally brought the City administration somewhat in parallel with the definition of community. Frey’s budget was amended to remove his $1.1 million initiative to hire eight new officers and redirect the funding towards community prevention and intervention. The $1.6 billion budget passed with the amendment intact, and Police Chief Arradondo reappointed.

It’s taken a while, but maybe an acknowledgement of the community is coming to Minneapolis City Hall after all. Let’s hope it stays.