Sparked by the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the phrase "Defund, dismantle the police" has become an oft-chanted protest rallying cry. In fact, a majority of City Council members recently said they support either slashing the police budget or doing away with the department altogether for a "police-free" future.
Although related calls for changes in policing strategies are welcome, talk of eliminating law enforcement in Minneapolis is irresponsible. Defunding or abolishing the Police Department won't improve public safety. It's also politically unrealistic and would violate the city's charter, an obstacle some council members propose to remedy through a ballot initiative this November.
Substantial reform through the kinds of changes in hiring, training, discipline and union contracts that the Star Tribune Editorial Board has endorsed for years is the way forward. The overhaul also could involve reallocating some police funding to improve community policing, better handle the demands of mental health calls and rebuild trust in the department.
The council members who have pledged to "begin the process of ending" the Minneapolis Police Department should instead work with, not against, Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey on seeking meaningful community involvement in reinventing MPD.
As the state's largest city, with more than 425,000 residents, Minneapolis needs a highly functioning Police Department with adequate resources. It's a growing city with complicated public safety issues. The city needs officers who are dedicated to public service, smart enforcement techniques and peacekeeping through de-escalation. It must protect and serve — not be an occupying force that is feared in some communities.
Law enforcement must meet a range of needs: Keeping downtown safe for residents, workers and visitors. Helping to prevent and solve neighborhood crime involving drugs, guns and assault. And reducing gun violence.
Cops are currently asked to be the first responders for nearly every social ill, including homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addiction. Some demonstrators say we'd be better off to spend directly on those problems, instead of law enforcement and prisons. Certainly, those areas merit investment. But Minneapolis will always need community-based, culturally competent policing. That means adequate staffing so that cops get to know the areas they patrol and view residents as something other than threats. It also means holding officers accountable when they mistreat or abuse citizens.
The Editorial Board has long made the case for police reform not just in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but across the state. On multiple occasions, we have endorsed many of the recommendations from the Obama administration's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and the findings of this year's use of deadly force report by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington offer good fodder for legislative action.
St. Paul's mayor and City Council are taking the right approach. Rather than dismantling the SPPD, they're working on needed reforms.
Sharing that view are many area small businesses and the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents some of the largest companies in the Twin Cities. We share their interest in seeking legislative changes to make it easier to discipline and dismiss problem officers, including changes in collective bargaining provisions. Partnership executive director Charlie Weaver summed up another argument against defunding or dismantling policing: "Getting rid of crime fighters won't eliminate crime."
This national moment of reckoning about police practices is rightly giving new momentum to overdue reform efforts. George Floyd's death moved Americans to say "enough'' and demand change. It should come soon.