Less than three weeks after they promised to begin work on “ending” the Minneapolis Police Department, some City Council members pushed forward a new vision for law enforcement Friday that could still include officers on the streets.
The council voted unanimously to advance a proposal that would create a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. Within that, the city could create a division that includes “licensed peace officers,” though it would not be required to do so.
It’s unclear how many, if any, officers would continue to be employed by the city if the proposal passes.
Council Member Cam Gordon said it’s consistent with the pledge from council members to fundamentally alter local policing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis officers.
“Those things that we called the police department are gone,” Gordon said. “Certainly, there is a provision in here that would allow this council or future councils to maintain a Division of Law Enforcement Services, but I think what we need to do is have that possibility there and talk to people about what the future should look like.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he’s seen little clarity on basic questions: whether there would still be a police department and if so, whether Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first black chief, would continue to lead it.
“We need precision,” Frey said, “and the precision of the solutions must match the precision of the harm that was initially inflicted.”
The city would need to change its charter to implement its proposal, which requires a citywide vote. Council members are using an unconventional, expedited process as they seek to get the measure on the November ballot.
The Minneapolis charter says the city must have a police department and City Council must “fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation.”
Based on the latest census data, that amounts to roughly 730 police employees. The department had 892 sworn officers and 175 non-sworn employees at the start of June.
The proposed new agency would be led by someone with “non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.”
In normal times, charter amendments have been aired over many months. The council would consider whether to send the matter to the Charter Commission, which would give a recommendation, after which the council would vote on whether to send the proposal to the ballot.
Frey would also need to approve or veto sending it to voters; he said Friday he’s not yet sure which he’d do.
But, with an Aug. 21 deadline for submitting items to the ballot this year, the city is moving forward on a rare, expedited schedule that will include just one public hearing.
Neither the city clerk nor the city attorney’s office could cite a previous instance where a charter amendment moved through this type of expedited process.
Despite the unanimous vote, a small number of council members said they were not endorsing the proposal but thought voters should have a say on the matter.
Frey said the council is going too fast, noting a resolution that he and the council approved earlier this month that promised a “yearlong process of community engagement.”
“Despite that promise, despite that promise to listen to black and brown communities, centering them at the very middle of the conversation, we’re presupposing an outcome right now and plowing ahead with a dramatic shift of the structure of the new department,” Frey said.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who helped write the charter amendment, defended the process. He noted that Floyd was not killed “on our ideal, maybe, bureaucratic schedule” and that the city needs to quickly address community concerns.
“It would be disingenuous for us to engage with the public about what a new public safety system should look like knowing full well that we can’t implement those things because of the charter,” he said.
The charter amendment was written by Ellison, Gordon and Council Members Alondra Cano and Steve Fletcher and Council President Lisa Bender.
“Decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions,” the group said in a joint statement earlier this month.
On Friday, multiple groups in Minneapolis criticized the proposal. Black Visions Collective, which helped organize a recent event in Powderhorn Park that called for the end of MPD and drew multiple council members, described the amendment as a “historic win” and crucial first step.
But Kandace Montgomery, the group’s executive director, also raised concerns that it still allows for law enforcement to play a key role.
“We are very concerned that the Council didn’t ensure that the new department won’t be led by current or former law enforcement officers,” Montgomery said in a statement. “We know that police will be fighting hard to influence this process, and we need our city leaders to do everything they can to make sure they don’t hijack our new safety infrastructure from the beginning.”
The board of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents city officers, said in a statement that the amendment is too vague and “fails to clarify questions about what replaces the police department, how it will work, and what actual steps will be done to address and prevent crime.”
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said she believes voters should have a chance to weigh in on the proposal, but she also cautioned that work needs to be done.
“The issues of the police department, the issues of all of the institutions in our society is, really, foundationally, underlying racism,” Jenkins said. “And, until we really address racism, nothing is going to change. We’re going to have a new name of the new public safety measure, with the same underlying, racist foundations that has been involved in the formulation of this country forever.”