The Minneapolis Police Department, faced with historic upheaval in the wake of George Floyd’s death three years ago, reportedly dipped last month to its lowest staffing level in four decades.
The department also held the lowest ratio of police officers to population served among 22 American cities sampled, according to an analysis by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Minneapolis police has just 585 sworn officers, just slightly above the number of officers on the neighboring St. Paul Police Department, which services about 120,000 fewer residents.
According to the newspaper, Minneapolis police’s staffing woes are so bad on some nights, that precincts have just four officers assigned to patrol their designated neighborhoods, and with no one to answer the phones, residents looking to follow up in person on police reports are met with locked doors and makeshift signs instructing to dial 911 in the case of an emergency.
The Star Tribune analysis said only Portland, Oregon, had a lower ratio of officers to resident by the end of last year. Portland had 1.3 officers per 1,000 compared to Minneapolis’s 1.4. The national average was 2.4.
“This is absolutely not sustainable,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara told the Tribune, noting how law enforcement partners, such as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, have stepped in to address violent crime following some of the bloodiest three years in the city’s history. “Thank God for all these other agencies that are filling this gap.”
At the time of Floyd’s death, Minneapolis police employed about 900 sworn officers. Afterward, the department saw a mass exodus of resignations, early retirements and officers taking mental and physical health leaves as a result of the mass anti-police Black Lives Matter rioting that swept the city.
The city’s decades-old charter demands the department maintain a minimum of 731 officers.
Several residents plagued by daily break-ins, carjackings and gun violence in their neighborhood following Floyd’s death sued the city for failing to maintain the charter requirements, and in June 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the city council had cleared enough funding to staff 731 officers, and Mayor Jacob Frey would need to fill the roughly 200-officer gap. Month after month, however, the city falls out of compliance with the ruling, as the department struggles to recruit new officers to keep up with the wave of retirements.
“It’s a self-induced problem,” Doug Seaton, president of the Upper Midwest Law Center, which represented the group of residents behind the lawsuit, told the Tribune. “They’ve created the mess that has resulted in some of the reticence to join up, or apply for, those police positions.”
The department still does not have enough officers to relaunch its disbanded community engagement unit, which O’Hara says is critical in re-establishing trust and successful proactive policing to fight crime. Civil analysts have been helping mine video and, with clerical work, on ongoing criminal investigations.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s the stuff that goes away first,” O’Hara said. “We’re never going to change people’s perception of us — and we’re never going to establish meaningful relationships with people — if the only thing we’re doing is responding from emergency to emergency to emergency.”
Meanwhile, activists have pushed for reform measures to shift reliance from police to more mental health services. The pilot program of Minneapolis’ Behavioral Crisis Response teams has been diverting thousands of calls traditionally handled by police.