When he was first elected to the Minneapolis City Council 12 years ago, Council Member Cam Gordon imagined he would craft policies for all city departments.
But Gordon said he soon learned that “the City Council has no authority to set policy for the Police Department.”
Currently, Mayor Jacob Frey has direct control over the police. The city charter gives the mayor the power to “make all rules and regulations and may promulgate and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department.”
On Wednesday during the Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Gordon — after listening to community members who called for more police oversight in the wake of the police shooting death of Thurman Junior Blevins in north Minneapolis — proposed to amend the city’s charter.
Gordon said he wants the City Council and mayor to have equal authority over the Police Department.
Frey does not welcome that idea. His office said Gordon did not inform the mayor about the proposal until only minutes before it was publicly discussed at the committee meeting.
“As a Council Member, I opposed this Charter amendment. That hasn’t changed,” Frey said in a statement Friday. “Effectively responding to the demands of policing requires an ability to receive clear — and at times quick — direction. That direction would be practically impossible with 14 cooks in the kitchen.”
Those “14 cooks” would be the 13 council members, plus the mayor.
Before Gordon’s charter amendment could appear on the November ballot, at least seven council members would have to first decide to take up the proposal and refer it to the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. That vote is slated for July 20.
So far, several council members, including President Lisa Bender and Andrew Johnson and Jeremiah Ellison, have expressed support for the proposal. “If we had direct control over the Police Department, we could pass ordinances that change department policy,” Bender said.
Council members supportive of the idea said getting the power to manage the Police Department would enhance police accountability, as they could give orders such as the release of the body camera footage when police shoot and kill.
Ellison said Minneapolis residents need to know whether they can call council members and get a response when “hot button issues,” like the shooting death of Blevins, flare up.
“I think it’s an important conversation and a ballot initiative would allow us to at least have the conversation,” he said.
Johnson said voters in his ward want more police oversight, and that the Police Department should “report to us like other departments do.”
The City Council’s authority over the police won’t complicate the management of emergency situations, he said.
“It’s not a situation where you have got 14 cooks in the kitchen,” Johnson said. “You have a clear chain of command, clear protocols for when emergencies happen.”
Johnson lamented the council’s inability to create policies for the “most important department” in Minneapolis.
“Right now, the council has no ability other than sitting on the sidelines opining,” he said. “We have no ability to do staff directions. I have had problems in the past where I can’t even get basic crime statistics related to my ward.”
Council Member Linea Palmisano said Gordon did not consult with her about the proposal, which she thinks was “too rushed” because it did not include public engagement before Gordon introduced it. She said she won’t support amending the charter and contends that the proposal is a “huge distraction.”
“This effort undermines the work of our new police chief and new mayor and all the things that they are doing to make improvements to policing,” Palmisano said.
She asked: “How would this council with this newfound authority go and stop officer-involved shootings?”