Late last Friday afternoon, the City Council voted 8-5 against a Letter of Agreement between the City of Minneapolis and the Police Federation of Minneapolis, which would have given the Minneapolis Police Department $15.3 million in sign-on and retention bonus funding.

Like many police departments across the U.S., the Minneapolis Police Department is struggling to hire and retain officers. The force has lost over 300 officers since 2020, the year former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Jacob Frey announced a plan to use $15.3 of the $19 million in public safety aid from the State of Minnesota to fund retention and sign-on bonuses for the Minneapolis Police Department. The majority of the City Council didn’t think it was a good use of the money and said so twice last week.

“We’ve known about the $19 million allocated from the State for months. So has the mayor. He has been told, repeatedly, in a variety of ways by myself and – it is my understanding, by many other councilmembers – do not allocate these funds without working with the council,” Koski told the crowded City Hall chambers on Friday. Koski said when Frey came to the council with a plan to present to the Budget Committee last week, the council was “stunned.”

Frey called Friday’s special meeting after the City Council’s Budget Committee voted against even hearing the proposal by a vote of 7-5 on Nov. 14. Friday's vote breakdown was the same, minus Ward 12 Councilmember Andrew Johnson's no vote due to his absence at the committee meeting.

City Council vote break down Nov. 17

Yes: Councilmembers Lisa Goodman (Ward 7), Linea Palmisano (Ward 13), Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), Michael Rainville (Ward 3), and LaTrisha Vetaw (Ward 4).

No: Councilmembers Emily Koski (Ward 11), Aisha Chughtai (Ward 10), Jamal Osman (Ward 6), Andrew Johnson (Ward 12),  Elliott Payne (Ward 1), Robin Wonsley (Ward 2), Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5), and Jason Chavez (Ward 9).

Budget Committee vote break down Nov. 14

Yes: Goodman, Palmisano, Jenkins, Rainville, and Vetaw.

No: Koski, Chughtai, Osman, Payne, Wonsley, Ellison, and Chavez.

Absent: Johnson

Funding for police officers tends to be a complex topic for the City Council. And in the last few months, the council has been pushing back more on police-related funding in general. Workers comp claims for police officers have been getting more scrutiny by the Policy & Government Oversight Committee. The committee voted against Sgt. Andrew Bittell’s workers comp claim in October, which was unprecedented. And on Nov. 13, the committee delayed voting on claims because staff weren’t available to answer questions, just a day before the Budget Committee meeting. Prior to October, the committee would often vote these claims through without discussion, with only Chavez and Wonsley routinely voting against them.

So why did the City Council vote against the mayor’s proposal for officer bonuses that would, ideally, help staff the city’s dwindling police department?

If you ask Ward 11 Councilmember Emily Koski, it’s not because she is opposed to increasing staffing in the department or because she is “anti-police.” She said it's because of how the mayor presented the deal and that bonuses have not been an effective tool in retaining officers in Minneapolis.

“I have regular meetings with both Third and Fifth Precinct inspectors who serve Ward 11 residents. I hear story after story about the amazing work our officers are doing each and every day,” Koski said on Friday.

Koski’s concerns were with the administration.

“The mayor has given no indication in the last six months that he was willing to collaborate,” Koski said at Friday’s meeting. The retention deal was made in November, at the very end of the 2024 budget process.

In a newsletter sent out Monday afternoon, Koski reiterated that there isn’t strong enough data to support funding the retention bonuses, a claim she made at the Budget Committee and special council meeting.

“Data has not been provided that shows sign-on and retention bonuses are effective as a sole solution. And this was the sole solution that was brought forward to address recruitment and retention of our officers with this State funding,” the newsletter reads.  

Palmisano on Friday referenced Roseville’s police department as a place where retention bonuses have been successful as part of a “bigger, total package.”

Due to the format of the meeting, Frey was not able to directly respond to statements made by councilmembers on Friday. Instead, Frey, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara, and City of Minneapolis Chief Human Resources Officer Nikki Odom answered prepared questions from councilmembers over the two hour-long meeting.

Odom gave a presentation on the benefits of the officer “incentive program,” showing that nearby departments are offering retention bonuses and reminding the City Council that a significant number of officers are set to retire soon.

Retirement data shared by City of Minneapolis Chief Human Relations Officer Nikki Odom at the special City Council meeting on Nov. 17.

The Letter of Agreement, or “side bar” agreement between the City and police union, also includes a clause that would have sped up hiring practices internally. The long hiring process, which O’Hara said includes not being unable to post a job until each 28-day pay period is over, was something Palmisano highlighted as a reason to vote for the Letter of Agreement.

The Letter of Agreement also included a permanent change to how job vacancies would be filled. Presentation by City of Minneapolis Chief Human Relations Officer Nikki Odom at the special City Council meeting on Nov. 17.

“Police officers need to be able to assign officers to critical shifts," Palmisano said on Friday. “That’s insane that it’s not in our power today. And it’s critically important.”  

At Friday’s meeting, O’Hara explained that with the new agreement he could fill vacancies within 10 days. The current process can take up to seven weeks.

“While that may have been OK previously,” O’Hara said. “At the level we are at now, we could have two or three vacancies that occur, but if they occur in the same place, that’s an added stress.”

Councilmembers also said they were concerned about using $15.3 million of $19 million in one-time funding for retention and sign-on bonuses, even if that money came with a promise of being able to fill vacancies quicker.

“We’ve got $19 million for the State to spend on, on a menu of potential public safety investments. This is one of them, and we’re going to spend $15.3 million of it this way? I think it’s a mistake,” Ellison said.

Koski said in 2024 she plans to ask for staff directives to receive more information on police departments that have successful retention programs and for research on the attrition rates at the Minneapolis Police Department.