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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Minneapolis police reformers routed in election

A proposal to restructure the city's police department and several of its supporters lost out in Tuesday's election, and advocates are now looking to the next fight.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A year and a half after Minneapolis city council members announced their intent to reimagine public safety in the city, Tuesday’s election all but foreclosed on their efforts.

With the defeat of a ballot initiative intended to replace the city’s police department with a department of public safety under the aegis of the council, plus a series of defeats for supportive council members and opponents of Mayor Jacob Frey, efforts to substantially restructure the police department were set back substantially. 

The ballot initiative, which would have removed the city charter’s mandate that the department have .0017 employees on its payroll per city resident and make policing just one part of the public safety department’s mandate, garnered just shy of 44% of a yes-no vote.

It sat on the ballot below a charter amendment preventing city council members from giving individual directions to city staff, which passed with 52% of the vote, and one allowing the council to implement a rent control program, which passed with 53%. 

Frey, meanwhile, garnered 49% of the vote in the final round of the city’s ranked-choice voting process, trailed by opponent Kate Knuth, who supported the question and came in at 38% in the final round. Knuth and opponent Sheila Nezhad both encouraged their supporters to rank the other second and leave Frey off their ballots entirely. Nezhad led Knuth in the first round with 21% of the vote, but didn’t make it to the final round after her totals trailed in the second- and third-choice categories. 

For supporters of the policing charter amendment, the results were discouraging but not a total loss. 63,000 votes, American Civil Liberties Union policy associate Munira Mohamed said, was nothing to sneeze at.

“What we can gain from that is no, we did not get the majority to win the ballot, but there is a very large grassroots support for changing and expanding public safety in Minneapolis,” she said. 

She cited disinformation from opponents and a “flattening” effect of national attention on the issue as creating a difficult environment for the measure.

“It’s kind of a cautionary tale about what happens when local politics are nationalized,” she said. “Local politics has been nationalized, in that everything is kind of a referendum on this abolish vs. defund argument. It’s these conversations on the national level that then get played out on the local level… with very little attention to detail.” 

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said the ballot measure was likely dragged down by a lack of clarity as to its objectives. The city council’s initial pledge to dismantle the department, he said, likely tainted the measure even though it promised more moderate changes.

“They initially made this a ‘defund the police’ movement, and they were stuck with the label that they started with,” he said. 

That combined with what he called an absence of a clear replacement plan and a spike in homicides and carjackings in the city to push a “silent majority” from the measure. 

“Even though I think there was an appetite for reform, I think the crime rate spike took that away,” he said.

Combined with Frey’s win, the success of the strong-mayor amendment and the ouster of pro-amendment council members Steve Fletcher, Phillipe Cunningham and Cam Gordon, Schultz said, the election could be viewed as “a repudiation of the city council.” 

“Is the vote interpreted here as meaning, police reform is dead?” he asked. “Or is it that we want police reform, but it’s going to have to wait until we have safer streets?”

With Frey in the driver’s seat, Mohamed said, the ball is in the opposition’s court.

“The opposition, which has been fearmongering and bringing really a lot of disinformation...At this point, they have the power now. And they are the ones who argued that there was no need for systemic change…. And so really the onus is on them at this point,” she said. “It’s time to see what changes will be made. Because the status quo is unacceptable. The status quo means more George Floyds.”

Representatives for All of Minneapolis, the organization leading the opposition to the amendment, did not respond to a request for comment.

Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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