Minneapolis City Council Moves Toward Replacing Police Department

A Minneapolis police vehicle passes a building on East Lake Street that was destroyed during protests two days prior on June 2, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The Minneapolis City Council took an early step toward its promised reimagining of the city’s police department Friday morning, voting unanimously in favor of a proposal to change the city charter.  

The council adopted a resolution proposing an amendment to the city’s charter that would remove its requirement for a police department. In place of the 800-officer department, the amendment would establish a department of community safety and violence prevention, the nature of which councilmembers have said would be developed in ongoing community conversations.

The amendment, which would have to be approved by the city’s charter commission and then ratified by Minneapolis voters before it goes into effect, would still allow for a law enforcement division of licensed peace officers under the community safety department’s supervision. The City Council voted unanimously to accelerate the process of getting the amendment on the ballot by shortening the usual back-and-forth process between the council and commission.

The resolution was co-authored by five council members, including Council President Lisa Bender, on the heels of an announcement by a veto-proof majority of the council that it would “begin the process of dismantling” the Minneapolis Police Department.

The city and its neighbor, the state capital of St. Paul, were rocked by clashes between protesters and police, arson and theft in the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25 after MPD officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. While rioting was quelled by a police and military crackdown on May 30, massive protests have continued to demand action to stop police violence against black people in the Twin Cities.

If the amendment passes, leadership of the newly formed community safety department would be nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council, a change from the mayor’s unilateral power over the police department.

While city leaders are not entirely united on the idea of disbandment, both opponents and supporters on the council said they believed the city’s residents should have the opportunity to vote on the issue.

Lisa Goodman, whose western Minneapolis ward encompasses many of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, was not among those calling for disbandment. Her vote for the ordinance, she said, was not an endorsement of the idea.

“In my opinion, what we’re saying now is, this is an item that belongs in the charter. It is an item that the charter should take up, and that the voters should have consent on,” she said. “This is not a unanimous vote to change it… it is a vote to determine that this is an item worthy of the charter.”

Northeast Minneapolis’ Steve Fletcher, who has been a vocal proponent of disbandment, agreed, but took a different tack. The council, he said, was not done with its work.

“I wouldn’t want anybody to think that this is the action that we’re taking, I wouldn’t want anybody to think that this is the change that people are asking for. This is a precondition to the change that people are asking for,” he said.

Fletcher added, “Voters can vote no if they want to maintain structural barriers that have prevented changes for decades, voters can vote yes if they want to create a more flexible and responsive government that can innovate, improve, and provide a new approach to public safety.”

The proposed charter amendment has been met with criticism from both sides. The activist group Black Visions Collective, whose calls to abolish MPD rang out throughout the protests, decried the charter amendment’s optional-police provision as a cop-out on Twitter.

“We need a clear commitment that the future of public safety in Mpls will not be led by current or former cops,” the group tweeted Thursday morning. “We’ve seen this play out before: lawmakers giving in to pressure from a few loud voices instead of listening to demands from the people. We can’t let it happen this time.”  

Mayor Jacob Frey, meanwhile, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was “seeing a lack of clarity” in the proposed charter amendment. Frey has said that he doesn’t support abolishing the department, a stance that could kill the amendment if he opts to veto it.

Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg also told the Star Tribune that he had concerns about the process.

“As I understand it, they are saying, ‘We are going to have this new department. We don’t know what it’s going to look like yet. We won’t implement this for a year, we’ll figure it out,’” Clegg said.

“For myself anyway, I would prefer that we figured it out first, and then voted on it,” he added.

For the proposed amendment to appear on ballots in November, Clegg and the commission would have to approve it at an Aug. 5 meeting. The City Council would then have to approve it, then the mayor. If Frey vetoes the proposal, there would be a chance for a veto override before the election.

The council also introduced two other ordinances seeking to reform its police department, including one from Fletcher proposing changes to the funding and acquisition of military and surveillance equipment and one from Alondra Cano, whose ward includes the intersection where Floyd was killed, seeking changes to oversight of officer conduct.

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