Eight North Side residents who sued Minneapolis seeking to increase police staffing are weighing how to proceed with the case after Mayor Jacob Frey unveiled a plan to boost hiring, the group's attorney said Thursday.
The announcement came at a press conference held one day before Frey's administration had been scheduled to appear in court to explain why it had fallen 119 officers shy of the minimum number required in the city's charter. That hearing has now been pushed to November.
"Right now, we're evaluating all options, including why the hearing is necessary at this point," said James Dickey, an attorney with the Upper Midwest Law Center who is representing the residents. "When it comes down to it, when you have a lawsuit, the question is: What is the ultimate goal? What can the court actually provide in terms of relief?"
Minneapolis' decades-old minimum staffing requirements have featured prominently in debates about how city leaders should seek to fulfill a promise to transform public safety in response to George Floyd's murder. While the residents who brought the lawsuit wanted the city to meet those requirements, others have argued they should be eliminated.
The Police Department experienced an unprecedented wave of resignations and claims for post-traumatic stress disorder in the months after Floyd's killing. Eight North Side residents sued the city in the summer of 2020 arguing they had suffered from an increase in violent crime while the city let its police staffing numbers dwindle.
Throughout a series of court hearings, including arguments before the Minnesota Supreme Court, Dickey and city attorneys debated whether Minneapolis officials had an obligation to employ the minimum number of officers or simply include enough funding for that many positions in the city's budget.
The Supreme Court ruled that City Council members had fulfilled their responsibilities by including funding in the budget, but Frey had an obligation to ensure the minimum number of officers were employed.
There was no doubt heading into the latest court hearing that the city had fallen short of the 731 officers required, a number calculated based on the city's population. The city's own data showed that, as of late last month, Minneapolis had 612 officers on payroll, 49 of whom were on a continuous leave lasting nearly two weeks or longer.
Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson was set to decide whether Frey's administration had shown good cause for falling below the minimum number.
Dickey said his clients agreed to postpone the hearing after Frey unveiled a new budget proposal earlier this week. That plan, which needs to be negotiated with the City Council, calls for giving the city's Police Department roughly $400 million over the next two years. The city's projections anticipate that would be enough to employ an average of 731 officers in 2023 and 783 officers in 2024, with higher numbers in the following years.
Throughout court hearings, Dickey had frequently questioned the accuracy of Minneapolis' police staffing projections, noting the actual number of officers working had frequently fallen below them. On Thursday, he said, "there is more reason to trust that projection now" and that he was encouraged by the mayor's plans to hold marketing plans to recruit new candidates, to hold more classes to bring on new officers and to hold an internship program for high school students interested in becoming officers.
The city attorney's office declined to comment.
The lawsuit was filed by North Side residents Cathy Spann, Aimee Lundberg, Jonathan Lundberg, Julie Oden, Audua Pugh, Georgianna Yantos and Sondra and Don Samuels. Don Samuels, a former City Council member, lost a Congressional primary to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar earlier this month.