A local activist group gathered enough signatures to trigger a ballot initiative that could clear the way for big changes in the police department. Some procedural hurdles remain.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Police abolitionists in Minneapolis may soon succeed in doing what elected officials could not in placing a charter amendment on the ballot that would fundamentally alter the department and could allow for total abolition.
Local election authorities verified Friday that the campaign for the charter amendment, Yes 4 Minneapolis, had acquired 14,101 valid signatures on its petition to put the proposal on ballots in the city’s November elections. They needed 11,906 signatures in favor of the proposal, which would create a new public safety department that would allow for, but not require, the inclusion of police officers.
The proposal, which now goes to the city attorney’s office for review to determine whether it is constitutional and relevant to the city charter, is one of several which emerged in the aftermath of George Floyd’s May 2020 death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s killing. Three other officers involved in his deadly arrest are expected to go to trial for aiding-and-abetting charges next March.
The initiative would remove an existing staffing mandate that requires the department to employ .0017 employees per resident, totaling about 730 employees based on 2019 census estimates. The department employed 877 sworn officers at the beginning of 2020 and 817 at the start of 2021, though only about 638 were available to work in February, with over 150 officers listed as being on extended leave. It would also remove policing from the exclusive control of the mayor, creating a new department under the supervision of the City Council to replace the existing police department.
Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey, who will also be on the ballot in November, has consistently opposed any structural change or cuts to the police department, but told Minnesota Public Radio in April that he supports a “comprehensive strategy to public safety” that includes federal and state-level changes along with the acknowledgement that “not every single 911 call needs response from an officer with a gun.”
Frey did not respond to a request for comment on this proposal.
Should the proposal clear legal review, it will go to the City Council and mayor to determine its wording. They are not allowed to change the substance of the proposal in that process.
Following Floyd’s death and a week of protests and riots, a veto-proof majority of nine City Council members vowed “to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it, and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe,” as council president Lisa Bender put it. In the months that followed, a proposal to remove charter requirements for the police department was effectively tabled by the city’s Charter Commission, and several council members defected altogether from the idea of defunding or altering the department. The election of a new member representing the city’s heavily Somali Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, whose seat was vacant last summer, did not bolster support for the cause either.
A smaller coalition of council members have stuck to the idea. North Side representative Phillipe Cunningham, Northeast Minneapolis representative Steve Fletcher and South Minneapolis council member Jeremy Schroeder have put forward their own proposed ballot initiative. Their proposal would still require a new public safety department to employ police in a law enforcement services division.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, meanwhile, came into being last fall and has garnered endorsements from several of the groups who called for police abolition during last year’s protests, including local Black activist groups Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block. Local progressive groups and unions and the Minneapolis branches of the American Civil Liberties Union and Democratic Socialists of America have also thrown their weight behind the proposal. The effort was bolstered by a $500,000 donation from the Washington, D.C.-based Open Society Policy Center, a progressive advocacy group founded by billionaire George Soros.
Yes 4 Minneapolis did not respond to a request for comment, but celebrated approval of its petition on social media.
“We are one step closer to creating safety for ALL by creating a new Department of Public Safety,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.