Council members divided on police incentive plan

Council members question whether spending $15.3 million in one-time state funding for bonuses will actually solve problems

Mayor Jacob Frey called a special meeting of the city council on Nov. 17, 2023, but did not get the approval he was seeking for a letter of agreement with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. 
Southwest council members were divided on the issue with Ward 11’s Emily Koski leading the effort to derail it.  
The agreement would have dedicated $15.3 million dollars for police sign-on and retention bonuses and given more authority to police leadership to reassign staff.  
It was signed on Nov. 8 by Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara, and Director of Labor Relations Rasheda Delaney, as well as the federation’s attorney James Michel, and president Sherral Schmidt, but required council approval before any funds could be used. It said that the city agrees to pay $15,000 to new recruits over three years ($5,000 annually per person) and $18,000 as a retention incentive spent over 2.5 years ($7,200 annually) for police employees who meet certain criteria. In turn, the federation would agree to give the police chief more flexibility in making staff assignments. 
The southwest area council members disagreed about the approach. Council members for wards 13, 8 and 7 (Linnea Palmisano, Andrea Jenkins and Lisa Goodman) supported the mayor’s proposal. The council members from wards 6, 11 and 10 (Jamal Osman, Emily Koski and Aisha Chughtai) opposed it.  
Staffing levels
At the special meeting Nicki Odem, the city’s chief human resources officer, described the proposal as “an effort to the stop the hemorrhaging” and address “critically low staff levels.” 
Since 2020, Odem reported, 522 employees have left the city’s police department. During the same time period the city hired only 174 new officers. The vacancy rate, based on an authorized number of 888, was 24% in 2020. This year it is 38%. According to the city’s charter and a state Supreme Court ruling, the city is supposed to fund and employ at least 731 officers, or 0.0017 sworn police officers per each Minneapolis resident. 
Managerial authority, morale boost
Ward 4 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw chairs the public safety committee and supported the agreement because of its potential to keep current and attract new officers. “We’re the police department everyone runs away from,” Vetaw said. “Incentives boost morale. Incentives make folks want to jump on board.”
Vetaw expressed concern about more officers who are likely to retire soon. According to staff, 38 officers are currently eligible to retire, 130 officers are eligible for early retirement, 131 officers will be eligible for full retirement within the next five years, and 200 officers will be eligible for early retirement within next five years.
Frey said that the agreement is about “clawing back the managerial authority so our chief can make the best decisions about where and when to place officers in a more timely fashion.” Under the current contract, officers have the opportunity to bid on assignments when a shift opens, and they are awarded based on seniority. That process requires the city to wait at least 28 days to fill a shift. 
Public safety aid
Concerns were raised about the source of the funding that was authorized last year in “Public Safety Aid” legislation. The funds can be spent on more than police officer personnel costs, and that includes incentives. It can also be used for community violence prevention and intervention programs, training programs, first responder wellness, and equipment. 
“I asked the mayor and the administration months ago to communicate with individual council members, and the budget committee, about the $19 million dollars in public safety funding received from the state, and cautioned that I did not think the budget committee would support use of the majority of that funding for sign-on and retention incentives for MPD,” said Koski. “But here we are. They’ve had six months to speak to us, and they chose to wait until the last second.”
“A variety of council members have been using this funding stream to propose budget amendments for community safety projects in their wards,” wrote Ward 9 Council Member Jason Chavez after voting against the proposal. “This agreement would have stripped away funding from these projects.” 
“Now is the time for us to think holistically and broadly about a transformative public safety plan for this $19 million in one-time funding from the state that actually improves safety and supports our police officers,” said Koski. Other options she identified include “mental health crisis responses, victim services, training programs, first responder wellness, equipment related to fire, rescue and emergency services, community engagement and gun violence prevention programs.”
Do sign-on bonuses work?
Koski questioned not only the funding source and process so far, but also the effectiveness of using the hiring and retention bonuses to recruit and retain officers. She cited the city of Seattle’s 2022 sign-on bonuses for police officers as an example of this tool not working. “Seattle’s police department’s staff numbers have decreased since these bonuses were offered,” she said. “And we can also look at ourselves as an example. We gave $7,000 sign-on and retention bonuses last year, and our staff numbers have continued to decrease.”
Ward 13 Council Member Linnea Palmisano was less concerned about the effectiveness of the incentives and identified managerial authority as the primary reason to support the agreement. “The letter of agreement is about a very important tool, and it’s that police management needs to be able to assign officers to critical shifts,” she said.
Ward 10 Council Member Chughtai did not think the benefits of making scheduling easier or recruitment and retention were worth the costs. “If we’re trying to throw money at recruitment and retention in an effort to stop the bleeding, it hasn’t worked,” she stated.
Chavez wanted to see more benefits to the city in the contract than just more flexible scheduling authority. “If we are to give bonuses,” said Chavez, “they should be tied to even more significant reforms in the department.” 
Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman shared her concerns that not spending more to try to recruit and retain officers could be seen as a violation of a court ruling and result in the city facing another lawsuit. “The mayor has done his part to suggest a path forward and council is about to say no we’re not going to do that,” she said. “The litigants will be right back in court.” 
‘Staffing issues stem from workplace culture’ 
In her closing comments, Koski said that next year, after this budget is passed, she intends to initiate a larger study of recruitment, hiring, retention and attrition among different city departments and employee groups including police. 
She has also identified other ways to support recruitment and retention that include increasing professional development and training opportunities, and funding homeownership, education and relocation assistance. She has called for “specific recruitment campaigns focused on women who currently only make up roughly 12% of our officers.”
“Since the letter of agreement did not pass council,” said Frey in an email after the meeting, “it’s possible this reform will not happen in the full contract negotiations. The chief and the community will have to continue to wait at least 28 days to fill a shift. This will directly impact the level of service we are able to provide to our community members.” 
“I would be more than happy to work on a compromise that includes real reforms but not at the expense of one-off negotiations that do not push for accountability,” wrote Chavez. “Moving forward, the mayor needs to understand that collaboration with the city council is necessary, not just an afterthought. I expect him to bring forward the strongest tentative agreement possible. And in collaboration with the city council. Then, we can talk about these bonuses, which should be tied to real accountability and reform.” 
“Our staffing issues stem from our workplace culture. Internal data shows it, external data shows it. And we’re not going to fix these issues by throwing money at them,” said Koski. “We need to look at this problem holistically and make decisions that set us up for success not just tomorrow, not just next year, but 5, 10, even 20 years from now.”


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