Despite pleas from the mayor and the police chief, the Minneapolis City Council on Friday voted down a $15 million package of incentives aimed at replenishing the ranks of the shrinking Minneapolis Police Department.
It was the second blow this week for Mayor Jacob Frey on police funding, as he faced an unexpected majority on the council that questioned whether the incentives would work and criticized how he approached them on the issue.
The immediate effect of the 8-5 vote is to send the city and the police union back to the negotiating table, where the incentives package had emerged as a side agreement during talks over a new contract for officers.
But Friday's action raises a larger question: How will the city stop its hemorrhaging of veteran officers and lure new recruits in an environment of low morale, high public scrutiny and some of the lowest staffing levels in recent memory?
It wasn't clear that the idea of police hiring incentives won't fly politically — but it wasn't clear what would.
"We're disappointed obviously, but we're not quitting," Frey said after the vote.
Friday's vote wasn't a surprise. Earlier this week, the council's Budget Committee voted 7-5 to not even discuss the incentives package, a tentative agreement between city and union negotiators announced last week by Frey and Police Chief Brian O'Hara.
That left the plan in limbo, and Frey called a special Friday meeting to force council members to vote the plan up or down. He said such a vote was needed to clarify what negotiators' next steps would be. It also afforded Frey and O'Hara a chance to make their case to the council in a public forum.
At one point amid questions from skeptical council members, an animated O'Hara spoke bluntly. "We don't have enough people," he said. "We have more and more overtime, which burns people out. Younger people don't want to come into the profession. Maybe this is not the answer, but I feel like we have to do something."
The agreement would have drawn from a $19 million pool of state funds to pay $18,000 to eligible police officers over the next 2 1⁄2 years, as well as $15,000 in incentive bonuses for new hires. In exchange, the union had said it would give up a level of control over how rapidly senior police officials can fill vacant shifts — an especially important tool with staffing so thin, police leaders said.
There doesn't appear to be definitive data showing whether such staffing incentives work. The exodus of police officers across the nation is new, and few programs have been in place for more than a year. The Department of Justice recommends using them as one tool.
Why did they vote no?
Council members who voted against the plan Friday questioned whether the incentives would work and objected to the timing of the proposal, which emerged as the council prepares to make its own changes to Frey's proposed annual city budget. Many of those changes include different ideas for how to spend the $19 million.
Several council members who voted no Friday have drafted proposals to spend parts of that money on violence prevention programs and other alternatives to traditional policing.
Those voting no were a combination of council members who have been outspokenly critical of police in general, as well as more moderate members who took pains to say they supported police, such as Emily Koski and Jamal Osman.
What they shared, seven of them said afterward, was a desire to protect the City Council's power of the purse.
"What you saw today was check and balance," Osman said, adding: "I'm proud of this."
Several of those who voted no said they might be able to support similar incentives, but not as a stand-alone issue that would have pre-empted council members' own ideas.
"Clearly as just a pure incentive package, we didn't appreciate it," Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said. "But I think it could possibly have been negotiated into something, had it not been a baked product, no discussion."
In what Frey and the police union are calling an unprecedented level of transparency, the bargaining sessions have been public, and materials, including the incentives plan, are being posted on a public city web page.
How they voted
Voting in favor of the incentives: Council President Andrea Jenkins, Council Vice President Linea Palmisano and Council Members Lisa Goodman, Michael Rainville and LaTrisha Vetaw.
Voting against: Council Members Elliott Payne, Robin Wonsley, Andrew Johnson, Jason Chavez, Aisha Chughtai, Koski, Ellison and Osman.