Minneapolis officials will raise the police chief's salary as they search for a candidate to lead a department that faces ongoing calls to improve accountability since George Floyd's murder.
Under a proposal approved by the City Council on Thursday, the next police chief will earn between $253,000 and $300,000 — up significantly from the roughly $204,000 former Chief Medaria Arradondo brought home last year.
The measure now heads to Mayor Jacob Frey, who has said he believes the increase will help the city find a high-quality candidate in a competitive hiring environment. "We felt strongly that, in order to recruit … we would need to properly pay for it," the mayor said during a news conference earlier this week.
Some council members who voted against the proposal said they believe the city should decide how it is going to restructure its public safety systems before raising the chief's salary.
"I think it's putting the cart before the horse to just presume this salary schedule," Council Member Elliott Payne said during Thursday's meeting. Payne noted that city leaders are still debating whether to create a new community safety office that would include police, fire and other services.
Minneapolis is searching for a new police chief at a time when the city — like many others — is grappling with how to respond to calls to transform public safety since Floyd's murder. The department faces steep challenges. It has about 280 fewer police officers than it did before Floyd's murder. The city faces one of the worst violent crime increases in decades. State authorities want the city to enter into a consent decree after determining that the department engaged in racial discrimination, and federal authorities are conducting a similar probe.
An analysis performed by the search firm Public Sector Search and Consulting Inc. for the city showed that at least eight other large, American cities had interim leaders. St. Paul is also seeking a new chief.
To raise the chief's salary to the new level, Minneapolis first had to ask state officials to once again waive a law that prohibits local government employees from making more than 110% of the governor's salary, an amount that equates to about $140,000.
"The City of Minneapolis is in a highly competitive job market for Police Chiefs. We're competing both nationally and locally," Patience Ferguson, the city's chief human resources officer, wrote in the application. "Given the impact of the civil and racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent officer involved killings in Minneapolis it is a challenging environment to attract qualified candidates."
She added that several candidates contacted proactively by the search firm "have indicated that the salary of $200,000 is far too low for this position and have declined to be considered."
The search firm's analysis listed police leaders' salaries in 51 of the country's largest cities, ranging from $117,000 in Indianapolis to $352,781 in Los Angeles. The average was about $230,000.
The department is now being led by interim Chief Amelia Huffman, who has expressed interest in the long-term job and currently makes about $192,000. It's too early to tell whether Huffman will receive the higher salary while serving as interim chief. "Upon receipt of a request for a salary adjustment, we'd evaluate each on a case-by-case basis," said city spokesman Casper Hill.
Five months after Arradondo, the city's first Black police chief, retired, the city remains in the early stages of its search for his successor. Minneapolis announced in March that it had hired a search firm, and some elected officials have since participated in listening sessions to collect input on the qualities residents want in the next chief. The city said it expects the job description to be finalized in "the next week or so."
Minneapolis leaders are still debating how to change the city's public safety systems. Frey has pitched a plan to create a cabinet that, among other departments, would include a new Office of Community Safety to oversee police, firefighters and other efforts.
The mayor said earlier this week: "It would be helpful, and I would very much prefer, that we brought on the commissioner of the Office of Community Safety prior to the ultimate hiring of a police chief. It makes sense given that partnership is going to be critical and we want to make sure that they maintain a very good working relationship."
The mayor needs support from council members to make those changes, and some have said they believe the Police Department needs to further improve accountability before it can successfully merge with other divisions. Some also questioned whether first solving problems in the Police Department could also help recruit new safety leaders.
"Why are we pouring money into an inherently dysfunctional, violent and racist system?" Council Member Robin Wonsley asked earlier this week.
The pay raise for the police chief job passed by an 8-5 vote. Council Members Lisa Goodman, Andrew Johnson, Jamal Osman, Emily Koski, LaTrisha Vetaw, Michael Rainville, Vice President Linea Palmisano and President Andrea Jenkins voted for the raise. Council Members Wonsley, Payne, Aisha Chughtai, Jason Chavez and Jeremiah Ellison voted no.