A measure that would allow voters to decide whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department after George Floyd's death won a decisive vote Friday by the City Council.
While the proposal still faces more tests, the 11-2 vote signals the measure has a good chance of making it onto the November ballot. It now heads to the court-appointed Charter Commission for review.
"The vote was an acknowledgment of the need to fundamentally change a system that serves white people better than it serves people of color, and that disproportionately exposes some in our city to harm," said Council Member Steve Fletcher, a sponsor.
Minneapolis has become a testing ground for proposals that would change cities' approaches to policing and public safety in the wake of Floyd's death during a police encounter, which prompted protests around the world after a video of a now-fired officer placing his knee on Floyd's neck went viral.
The discussions are unfolding at a tense time in the city. On Friday morning, during the first week of jury selection for former officer Derek Chauvin, city officials unanimously agreed to pay $27 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Floyd's family. Barricades remain around the courthouse and City Hall as city leaders wait to see if the trial will prompt more unrest in the city. Meanwhile, the public safety debate is playing out during a dramatic spike in violent crime that has many residents demanding greater police presence and enforcement.
The Police Department — and a failed effort to present an alternative — sparked a spirited hourlong debate during Friday's council meeting.
Council members who supported the proposal argued it was crucial to fulfilling a promise to transform public safety after Floyd's death and to reduce racial disparities in policing.
"I don't know how to say this any more succinctly than we all must be anti-racist," Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said. Citing news reports that showed Minneapolis police disproportionately use force on people of color, and particularly Black residents, Jenkins said: "That, to me, says that there is a deeper problem than the policies that are governing our police department, and that is the work that we have to really continue to try to eradicate from all of our systems."
Council Member Linea Palmisano said she fears the proposal won't actually fulfill the underlying goals of increasing accountability and transparency for police in the city.
"We have made some progress and we have a lot more to go," she said, "but we should not delude ourselves into thinking this will actually accomplish these goals."
Others pushed back, saying they felt it was crucial to act now.
"There are a lot of things to consider with it. We're going into a closed session today [to discuss the Floyd family settlement]. The trial for former officer Chauvin has just started, and I do not think this is the time to close the door completely on any sort of organizational change within MPD," Council Member Andrew Johnson said. "We owe it to the public to continue that discussion."
The proposal, sponsored by Fletcher, Council Members Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremy Schroeder, calls for the city to create a new Department of Public Safety that "provides a comprehensive approach designed to address the connection between public safety and health by integrating various public safety functions of the city."
The proposal would change the City Charter, removing the requirements to keep a minimum number of police based on the city's population and the mayor's "complete power" over officers' operations.
The latest version, revised after feedback from the city attorney, says the new department would be led by a commissioner appointed by the city's elected leaders. The department must include a division with police, but it could have other divisions as well.
The proposal has elicited strong reactions from a deeply divided public. Proponents have argued that past reform efforts haven't done enough to change policing in the city, while opponents say they fear the measure could reduce accountability for police by forcing them to also report to the council.
Council members Palmisano and Lisa Goodman voted against sending the proposal to the Charter Commission.
The council isn't the only group looking to overhaul the Police Department. Yes 4 Minneapolis, an independent political committee, is collecting petition signatures to ask voters this November whether to replace the department with a new entity that would take a "comprehensive public health approach to safety." Progressive groups such as Reclaim the Block and TakeAction Minnesota are part of the campaign.
This will be the second time in less than a year that the court-appointed Charter Commission is reviewing a proposal to replace the Police Department. Last year, shortly after Floyd's death, a group of five council members introduced a plan to create a new public safety department in which police would have, theoretically, been optional.
The commission decided to take the full 150 days allowed under law to review the proposal, effectively overshooting the deadline for getting items on the ballot. This time, even if they take the full 150 days, city leaders can still make the deadline for submitting items on the ballot.
The commission can provide a recommendation that council members place the question on the ballot, reject it or consider an alternate proposal. They are not bound to follow that recommendation.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994