A long-awaited study released Monday called for Minneapolis officials to reconsider when and how they deploy police officers but stopped short of saying how many cops the city needs.
City and police leaders have repeatedly described the study as crucial in determining the future of the department. But after more than a year and $170,000 spent, the study by consultant CNA included points that could support arguments both for and against increasing police staffing.
That puts the question back with Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council as the city struggles to fix policing following George Floyd's murder while responding to rising anxiety about crime.
Among its recommendations are to evaluate switching from two- to one-person patrols, reconsidering staffing at the precinct level and further studying the feasibility of assigning certain nonviolent emergencies to civilian workers — which could free up between 73 and 106 officers. Several such pilot programs launched in recent months for calls involving mental illness and traffic violations.
Most calls for service involved "no immediate threat of harm," but patrol officers still responded, the report noted. Some of those calls could be handled by an officer on the phone.
"MPD has implemented such a system, but its staffing levels have been inconsistent," the report stated.
The report found that, with some exceptions, MPD officers on average spend less time on emergencies that require an armed police response by state law than on time-consuming tasks, such as theft reports, that could be handled by others. Such calls take nearly twice as long as calls they are required by law to respond to, averaging 69.2 minutes vs. 33.9 minutes, respectively, the report found. In recent months, the city has already started having 311 workers, rather than police, handle some theft-only report calls.
At the same time, the study avoided making any judgments on how many officers the city should employ.
The Police Department's patrol division — which focuses on responding to 911 calls — could be "appropriately staffed or substantially understaffed" depending on how officials want officers to spend their time, the report said. "Determining the ideal values for these inputs is grounded in local context, community expectations, and operation goals and goes beyond the scope of this assessment."
The report also argued that the department's community outreach bureau was understaffed and that officers were spending most of their time responding to 911 calls, rather than doing the kind of proactive police work that can engender public trust.
Frey and the City Council commissioned the study in late 2019, and the consultant was hired in October 2020. The study's authors set out to "systematically determine patrol staffing needs based on actual workforce demand" by analyzing such variables as the volume of calls for service, the time officers spent investigating after an incident and the so-called "shift-relief factor" — which compares the total number of days an officer is available to work against the number the officer actually works.
A copy of the study was posted to the city's website on Monday afternoon. Council members are expected to discuss it at Wednesday's meeting of the Public Health & Safety Committee.
The study comes at an awkward time for city officials. Minneapolis is under a court order to hire nearly 190 officers by June 30 or explain to a judge why officials can't comply with the minimum number of officers required in the city's charter. The city is awaiting a ruling on its appeal.
The department is down about 300 officers since George Floyd's death, from the 889 cops it was allotted at the beginning of 2020.
MPD spokesman Garrett Parten said late Monday that he hadn't yet read the report and thus could not comment on its findings. He said that the department currently employs 579 sworn officers but that it is authorized to grow to 756 under the current budget.
The results of the staffing study were released nearly three months after voters rejected a measure that would have eliminated minimum staffing requirements for police and replaced the MPD with a new agency focused on taking a public health approach to safety. It comes nearly two months after Frey and the lame-duck City Council approved a roughly $191 million budget for the Minneapolis Police Department, a figure that restores it to nearly the amount it was at before Floyd's death.
The new report places city officials in a "conundrum," as some of its findings suggest the city doesn't need as many officers as it says it does, according to Andrea Larson, a former director of strategic management in the Minneapolis city coordinator's office.
"Now we're in a position where, because of how we voted last fall, approving minimums established by the police union 60 years ago, we don't have the flexibility to (reallocate) police resources," said Larson, who has since left her position. "Officers are spending a lot more time on calls that no state laws, no ordinances or policies are saying that they are required to respond to."
Frey's office said it would continue to review the report's findings but hinted he would push for the "both-and" approach to safety that he discussed on the campaign trail and in budget negotiations.
"The report highlights the importance of much of the shared work already underway to build a more comprehensive community safety system," the statement said. "That work includes ensuring a fully staffed, community-oriented and effective police department while expanding safety beyond policing work."
Pete Gamades, a community organizer who has advocated on police accountability issues, said that any assessment of police staffing should take into account the current conversation around reimagining public safety.
"It's one thing to look at everything the police department needs to do today and say how much staff do you need to do that, and kind of replicate the status quo, versus taking a look at what can be done differently," said Gamades, who hadn't yet seen the report.