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Union contract would increase MPD budget by millions, push police salaries past most peers

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Union contract would increase MPD budget by millions, push police salaries past most peers

Jun 21, 2024 | 3:03 pm ET
By Deena Winter
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Union contract would increase MPD budget by millions, push police salaries past most peers
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Minneapolis Police Department squad cars parked downtown. Photo by Chad Davis/Minnesota Reformer

Minneapolis is considering giving its police officers historic raises of nearly 22%, pushing their pay to among the highest in the nation, even as state and federal officials are forcing the police department into court-sanctioned monitoring for civil rights violations. 

The new police contract would push starting officers’ salaries to $92,693 annually by next summer — higher than the Los Angeles Police Department or New York Police Department. 

Most Minneapolis officers already make six figures by logging heavy overtime to compensate for short-staffing. 

The average salary for all Minneapolis public school teachers, by contrast, is $76,000. 

After the police murder of George Floyd, Mayor Jacob Frey blamed the police union and its labor contract for creating a “nearly impenetrable barrier” to disciplining bad cops like Derek Chauvin. 

As the eyes of the world focused on Minneapolis and its history of racist policing, officers began leaving in droves — often getting disability pensions for post-traumatic stress disorder and workers’ compensation settlements on the way out. About 300 officers left, dropping staffing to historic lows, and city leaders scrambled to stem the flow. 

The contract approved in 2022 did not address the disciplinary process, and gave officers raises and $7,000 retention bonuses if they stuck with the department through 2022. 

Now Frey is pushing a contract that would give police officers raises of 5.5% on July 1, 2.5% on Jan. 1, and 3.5% next summer, plus prorated back pay for veterans dating back to 2022. 

The Minneapolis City Council will begin debating the contract next week, but Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley said she’s “very unsure” whether the council will approve it. She said council members were told the contract would require a $9 million increase in property taxes, but haven’t been given the total cost of the package.

“I know the financial piece is definitely a major concern amongst this body — how we’re going to pay for it; what’s the total cost?” she said.

A city spokesperson, Greta Bergstrom, said it’s difficult to calculate the total cost because the raises will be paid out retroactively back to 2022, and even some officers who have left MPD could get back pay. But Frey has budgeted $9.2 million for it in 2025, for a total annual cost of about $116 million in police salaries and benefits.

Wonsley opposes the mayor’s proposal to help pay for the police contract by using one-time funds that the council appropriated for public transportation safety, addressing hate crimes and “safety ambassadors.”

If the council does not approve the contract, it will move back to mediation.

Communities United Against Police Brutality sent a letter to council members urging them to vote against the contract.

“While we want police officers to be paid appropriately and commensurate with their work, a starting salary of $92,693 places officer pay far above the 2024 median household income for Minneapolis of $76,332” CUAPB wrote.

The group called it “unconscionable” to give nearly 22% pay increases to a department that has cost the city $71.3 million in police brutality payouts since 2019, with more to come. 

“That level of pay increase should be reserved for a police force that shows an appropriate level of service and accountability to the community,” they wrote.

The city also paid out over $22 million in workers’ compensation settlements to officers leaving the force in the first two years after Floyd’s death, contributing to a nearly $22 million budget deficit, which is expected to require a steep property tax increase next year.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents the city’s police officers, signed off on the agreement less than a week after Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell was killed in the line of duty.

Frey and Police Chief Brian O’Hara say pay raises are desperately needed to help stop the hemorrhaging of officers. O’Hara told WCCO MPD staffing is “40% below what had been normal here.”

Despite the short-staffed department, violent crime dropped sharply last year, as it has in most cities after spiraling during the pandemic.

Wonsley said there’s concern in the community about the lack of police reform in the new proposed contract, but the Frey administration says those reforms can be made by O’Hara and the pending federal consent decree. 

Wonsley asked city staff to bring a list of those reforms to a Tuesday meeting.

“For years, we were told the contract was the place for reforms,” she said. 

O’Hara told WCCO he’s responsible for reforming the department, not the labor agreement.

“It is my job to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, and the mayor, the council and the residents can hold me accountable for that,” he said.

Wonsley said her priority has been to make sure there’s enough transparency and public engagement in the process, rather than rushing the contract through.

“There’s always urgency that this administration moves with,” she said. “We can take this time and that might help the council get to a place where they can support it.”  

Coaching codified; double overtime to continue

If approved, the contract would allow the chief to temporarily assign sergeants and lieutenants to perform police officer functions; allow the chief to place officers under investigation for serious misconduct on leave for up to 180 days; and continue hiring civilian employees to help sworn officers investigate cases.

The police union has raised concerns about non-sworn employees doing investigative work, but the contract notes that the purpose of hiring them is to assist officers, not supplant them. 

The agreement also continues requiring officers to work one “critical staffing overtime” shift per 28-day scheduling period, for which they’re paid twice their hourly pay — rather than the traditional time-and-a-half. This “double overtime” pay began in the fall of 2022, and has contributed to record overtime at MPD.

The contract also codifies the city’s position that “coaching” officers — i.e., informal correction such as training or a meeting with a supervisor — isn’t discipline, and so isn’t a public record. 

After the city denied a public records request for coaching information, the ACLU sued the city in 2021 on behalf of a government transparency group called the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. 

The lawsuit alleges MPD uses coaching even for serious violations in order to keep disciplinary records secret. City officials have said coaching is only used for minor policy violations, like speeding, but MPD records show it’s been used even in cases of excessive force, discrimination, retaliation and harassment. 

The proposed contract says discipline refers exclusively to written reprimands, suspensions, demotions and discharges.

Under the agreement, officers would also no longer receive automatic notification of the identity of people requesting their public personnel data. 

Critics said that chills the rights of people to request data on officers. Wonsley said it was a priority of hers that the provision be removed.

Off-duty work

The contract does not address MPD’s lucrative off-duty work system, which O’Hara himself has said is “ripe for corruption.”

Off-duty work often pays a lot more — up to hundreds of dollars per hour — than working overtime for MPD, and some officers are paid in cash.

Some businesses — like large nightclubs — are required by the city to have security, which until 2020 was often off-duty MPD officers. The city can also require that organizers of large events and businesses that make a lot of 911 calls also hire off-duty officers. Businesses may also voluntarily hire officers for security and traffic control, and they negotiate pay and hours directly with officers. 

The Reformer reported in October that several business owners and city officials said some small business owners — particularly those owned by immigrants — were led to believe they had to hire MPD officers, or risk getting ghosted by police. 

A 1997 court injunction restricts how much the city can manage off-duty work. Last year, Frey told the Reformer it’s “one of the more difficult and intractable” issues facing MPD, and vowed that it would be covered during labor negotiations, saying the city should have more managerial oversight to make the process more fair and equitable to both officers and businesses hiring them.

It would be expensive for the city to take over the off-duty program, however, since officers would be paid through the city, at an overtime rate, and the pay would count toward their pension benefit calculation.

Wonsley said it’s her understanding that the Frey administration is “looking to take a litigation approach” to try to get the injunction overturned.

Assistant Chief of Community Trust Christopher Gaiters told a council committee Thursday that a new inspections unit recently began overseeing off-duty work to ensure officers are “compliant,” but will need more time and data to see how effective it is.

 “In our opinion it’s working well as far as making certain that people are being compliant,” he said.