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The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis on Wednesday proposed a one-year "bridge" contract focused on bolstering wages to attract and retain new recruits amid crippling staffing shortages that have thinned the department's ranks to historic lows.

Union officials contended at the second public bargaining session with the city that officers' wages have failed to keep pace with many suburban law enforcement agencies, which are competing for the same limited pool of candidates.

"Basically, we're losing two officers for every one we're able to hire," federation attorney Jim Michels said. He noted that Maplewood is the highest-paying department in the state.

"And no disrespect to the officers that serve the city of Maplewood, but I don't think there's any way that you can legitimately compare the job of a Maplewood cop to what a Minneapolis police officer does on a daily basis — both in terms of the level of social issues that they're facing and [staffing]," he said.

The proposal, which includes a 5.2% pay increase without any new accountability measures, is a tough sell for city leaders tasked with implementing court-mandated reforms in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

"We don't view this as a single-issue negotiation," said Greg Wiley, an attorney assisting the city's labor team. Recruitment and retention are a "significant priority," he acknowledged, but added that a deal of that nature would be unlikely to garner approval. Wiley requested that the federation reconsider the all-or-nothing proposal, so the parties could bargain on particular line items.

The city's current police labor agreement was adopted in March 2022 during a split 8-5 City Council vote and expired Dec. 31. That contract included raises and $7,000 retention bonuses for officers, but lacked many of the disciplinary changes activists demanded to rein in misconduct on the force.

Several public observers in the room urged city officials to not entertain a contract proposal that again increases wages without codifying additional reform measures. Doing so would eliminate the city's leverage in future negotiations, said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, an attorney who sits on the watchdog group MPLS for a Better Police Contract.

"What really bothers me is they continue to ask for more money without showing any progress in what is demanded out of the consent decree," she said. "The public is not going to stand for — and I don't think the City Council will stand for — giving away the store."

Last week, her organization unveiled a series of sweeping recommendations for the city's ongoing labor negotiations with the Minneapolis police union, meant to enhance accountability and officer wellness.

In its initial proposal, the city lofted incentives for MPD employees who are bilingual and those who successfully recruit new officers. To further address staffing issues, Wiley said Minneapolis is prepared to offer retention bonuses of $18,000 over three years for veteran officers working at least 35 hours per week and $15,000 for new hires, doled out in equal installments over three years.

City leaders are also seeking to continue using civilian investigators within the agency to help manage the workload of the 585 police officers remaining on the force.

"We're trying to effectively and efficiently use the resources we have so that sworn personnel are doing sworn personnel work, and they're getting assistance from those who are nonsworn," Wiley said.

Michels countered that the federation welcomes the help, but must ensure that civilians are not taking over police duties, such as preparing memos for charging decisions or signing search-warrant affidavits. The union is also open to proposed pay incentives, yet maintained that contractually bound pay raises are far more attractive to prospective hires and union members than one-time lump sums that have strings attached.

The staffing situation has become so dire for the department's dwindling patrol division, Michels said, that some summer shifts were reduced to one squad car — or two police officers covering their given precinct. "That's not acceptable to deliver the service that the community needs and expects from MPD," he said.

Over the past 20 years, MPD's pay scales have hovered among the top third of 27 regional police departments. That may no longer be sufficient to attract qualified candidates given the complexities that come with working here, Michels argued.

Last week, nine new recruits graduated from MPD's academy. One dropped out shortly before graduation, instead taking a job with the Blaine Police Department. That suburban agency boasts the highest starting salary for new officers at $93,480. Minneapolis' starting rate, by comparison, is $75,176.

At the ceremony, a class speaker later joked that Blaine is only "a phone call away."