Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Minneapolis’ Appeal on Ruling Requiring It to Hire More Police Officers

By Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
August 11, 2021 Updated: August 11, 2021

By Liz Navratil
From Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday denied Minneapolis’ request to hear an emergency appeal on a court ruling that required the city to hire more police officers.

In a one-page order, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said the court was denying the city’s request for “accelerated review,” a move that would have allowed the case to take the unusual step of bypassing the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The order did not elaborate on the court’s rationale.

Minneapolis officials had argued that a Hennepin County judge overstepped her bounds in ordering the city to hire at least 730 officers, and residents deserved clarity on the court case before they head to the polls in November to decide the future of the city’s Police Department.

Lawyers for the group of North Side residents and activists who brought the case opposed the request. They argued that the judge’s order was appropriate and it would have no impact on the “clear-cut” proposal that will appear before voters this fall.

The court’s denial doesn’t necessarily signal an end to the court battle. The city could still challenge the order in Minnesota’s Court of Appeals, if officials decide to take that route.

Minneapolis’ minimum police staffing requirements have become a key issue in debates about how to transform public safety and in the November elections, when the future of the Police Department, the mayor’s office and all 13 City Council seats will be on the ballot for the first time since George Floyd’s murder by an officer.

The city’s charter, which serves as its constitution, requires Minneapolis to fund a police force with a minimum size based on population. One question placed before voters this November will ask residents whether they want to keep that requirement or eliminate it, a move that could allow city officials to dramatically reduce the size of the force.

As the court case has unfolded, two key questions have emerged: whether Minneapolis has to budget for a minimum number of officers or employ a minimum number of officers; and whether the city must update its population numbers when new estimates come out, or only after the new census results are released, usually every 10 years.

The Minneapolis city attorney’s office had asked the state’s high court to hear their case, saying a ruling “is necessary to clarify the meaning of the provision in time for the November election when this critically important issue will be presented to the citizens of Minnesota’s largest city for a vote.” They argued that a judge overstepped her bounds and interfered with elected officials’ discretion “by ordering the hiring of a certain number of police officers by a certain date.”

Attorneys for the North Side residents and activists who brought the lawsuit opposed the request, saying the ballot language was clear-cut and wasn’t impacted by the judge’s ruling. Lawyer James Dickey, in a legal filing, argued that elected leaders still had the discretion to determine how they would hire enough officers to comply with the city’s charter. He noted, for example, that they could grant more funding to the Police Department, direct the department to hire more trainers or offer additional incentives to attract new employees, among other options.

“The idea that enforcing the city’s ‘constitution,’ as it were, is somehow an interference with the city’s government is fundamentally flawed as well,” Dickey wrote. “It is a claim that the City is ruled by men and women following the temporary passions of some of its citizens, and not by laws. The City’s ability to create its own home-rule charter is not a license to make a law and then jettison it when inconvenient for the current cadre of elected officials”

When city leaders approved the 2021 budget, they included enough money to cover the costs of 770 officers. City leaders have acknowledged that the number of officers actually working will be lower, in part because of an unprecedented number of resignations and claims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In court filings, the city anticipated it would have 690 officers on payroll in June of this year, with 46 on long-term leave; 649 on payroll in January 2022, with none of them on long-term leave; and 721 on payroll in January 2023, with none on long-term leave.
Attorneys for the city argued that elected leaders fulfilled their obligations when they included funding for 770 officers in the budget and that the minimum number required is about 650, based on the 2010 census results.

Lawyers for the group who brought the suit argued the city needs to employ “a working police force” that meets the minimum size requirements. Citing 2020 population estimates, while the expected census results are delayed, they placed the minimum number at roughly 743 officers.

In early July, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson issued an order largely siding with the residents. Saying the city has a responsibility to keep up with new population figures, Anderson gave the city until June 30, 2022, to fund a police force with at least 730 officers — or a higher number if new census numbers are released and warrant it.

She arrived at that number using 2019 population estimates, a number she used because attorneys for both the city and residents had previously agreed they were accurate.

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