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Judge backs activists seeking more Minneapolis police officers

A judge ordered city leaders to “immediately” take “necessary action” to fund at least 0.0017 employees per resident

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Mayor Jacob Frey and the council were told to “immediately take any and all necessary action” to make sure they fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP, Pool File

By Alex Chhith
Star Tribune

HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. — A Hennepin County judge on Thursday ordered Minneapolis leaders to keep the number of police officers at a level required in the city charter, saying that Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council “failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law.”

The ruling was a victory for eight activists who sued the city last year, citing high levels of violent crime, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods.

Frey and the council “shall immediately take any and all necessary action” to make sure they fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, as called for by the city charter, according to the ruling issued by Judge Jamie L. Anderson. That would be either 730.33 officer jobs or the number that would equal 0.0017 of the city’s 2020 census population when that figure is published later this year, whichever is higher.

Represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center and the Center for the American Experiment, the “Minneapolis Eight” sued the city last August over what they said were inadequate police staffing levels. Sondra Samuels, one of the petitioners along with her husband, former City Council Member Don Samuels, said she had no doubts back then that they would win.

“I’m excited in the court of law that they said, ‘Yes, the city of Minneapolis needs to abide by the charter that governs the city,” the north Minneapolis resident said Thursday evening. “To have our county say, ‘You’re right,’ it feels like the people won.”

The other petitioners were Cathy Spann, Aimee Lundberg, Jonathan Lundberg, Julie Oden, Audua Pugh and Georgianna Yanto.

The ruling comes as the embattled Police Department faces efforts to change its structure and funding in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25, 2020. Former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in his death and sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison.

As of April 10, there were 743 police officers in the city, 92 of them on leave for at least 78 hours or more during that pay period. The Police Department had projected by June 1 of this year, it would have 690 sworn officers on payroll and 46 on long-term leaves.

But the department has projected that there will be just 649 officers on the force by January 2022, less than the number called for by the suit and the judge’s ruling. By the end of January 2023, that projected number would be 721.

The court also found that the city must be more proactive with calculating the proper number of police officers it needs to employ according to census numbers.

For the ruling, the court decided to use 2019 census numbers, which is 429,606. For its calculation, the city had used 2010 census numbers.

“If the City is not proactive in anticipating what will be required of it in coming years, it will constantly be behind — constantly underperforming and, as a result, understaffing the police force,” Anderson wrote.

The city argued in court that the charter demands it use the latest “decennial federal census” and that the number of positions should be at 650.38.

The petitioners testified that the lack of officers was connected to an increase in crime that has affected their daily lives. One family’s house was shot twice, with a bullet lodging near the window of a child’s room, they said.

Another petitioner said she was going to homes to provide comfort to some families who had lost children and that the pain for them and her became “unbearable.”

Samuels said the recent legal action doesn’t conflict with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been calling for police accountability and reform because of the rate that Black men and women are dying during encounters with police.

“This isn’t about having more police officers,” she said. “We want a sufficient level of staffing and ... in accordance with the city charter. We demand sufficient staffing levels so that 83% of the shooting victims in Minneapolis are not Black.”

Samuels said she sees the ruling as a victory for the three children who were shot, two of them fatally, in north Minneapolis in April and May.

“If there were more police, they would still be alive,” she said.

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