The Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey can deliver a new era of public safety by creating a Department of Public Safety — one that does not replace but exists alongside the Minneapolis Police Department.
I believe this is how city leadership can both address the challenge of police accountability and fulfill our broader public safety promises while earning the trust of our community. When I announced my intent to create a Department of Public Safety, it was an endorsement of the much discussed "both/and" approach and an invitation to my colleagues on the council.
Amid a national rise in crime caused by the global pandemic, Minneapolis voters sent a clear message in our last election that they wanted to maintain our Police Department. However, a significant percentage also demanded a more comprehensive approach to community safety. City leaders should deliver both.
The city began pursuing alternative approaches to public safety several years ago. In 2018, the City Council directed the city coordinator to convene a work group and determine whether there are opportunities to expand the city's ability to respond to calls for service beyond police. The 911/MPD work group presented alternative responses to police and recommended pilot programs.
In 2020, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring its intent to create a transformative new model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis. Following a year of community-centered engagement by the Office of Performance and Innovation, the City Council approved funding in the 2021 budget for several alternative response pilot programs including the behavioral crisis response team.
Before becoming the first Black City Council member to represent the First Ward, I helped create these pilot programs. I decided to run for office in 2020 after watching a Minneapolis police officer murder George Floyd. I could not just accept his death as an outcome of how we do community safety.
It was less than a month after I was sworn-in when another Minneapolis police officer shot and killed a young Black man named Amir Locke. Now holding an election certificate of my own, I'm here on behalf of my First Ward neighbors to refuse to accept a delayed and uncoordinated response from our city's leadership. That's why I'm prioritizing this work now and inviting my colleagues to consolidate our alternatives to police under one department with stable leadership and coordinated direction.
The recently released After-Action Review conducted by Hillard Heintze on behalf of the city highlighted numerous failures of the city and the MPD during the unrest following George Floyd's murder. Participants in the study indicated they felt abandoned by the city, and many residents had to work together when our current public safety system failed them.
A key finding stated that researchers "heard numerous times that getting the right people in the right seats has not been a priority within the MPD in recent years. Perhaps most problematic and systemic is the lack of confidence and perceived capability of MPD leadership's decision making." The report also elevated loss of trust as a theme from community member interviews.
A separate survey commissioned by the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board found that young people surveyed do not feel comfortable calling 911 for a police response. They fear harm and expressed an overwhelming desire for alternative responses to police. The voices of our youth are absent from our elections but they deserve to be heard.
The City Council also recently received an MPD staffing study. The study analyzed the nature of calls for service to the MPD, and concluded that nearly 18% of all calls between 2016 and 2020 could potentially have been handled through a non-police response. The study also found that while MPD officers are able to respond quickly to priority calls, they take a disproportionately longer time responding to domestic violence calls.
Our next police chief must be dedicated to implementing the necessary reforms to ensure the police are accountable to the public and that the department delivers on its promise to protect and serve. We need a chief who will ensure an appropriate response to calls that require an armed response. And we need a chief who will earn the community's trust.
Similarly, we need a commissioner of public safety dedicated to coordinating responses to the nearly 18% of calls that do not require a response from a sworn officer. We need a commissioner capable of consolidating the myriad programs, teams and initiatives already working to improve safety and prevent violence in our city. And we need a commissioner who can create a culture of accountability and a public health framework for community safety.
I am currently working with all of my colleagues on the City Council and the mayor to build consensus around the "both/and" strategy voters demanded. Together, we can deliver a new era of public safety for Minneapolis.
Elliott Payne represents the First Ward on the Minneapolis City Council.