Despite having their power to oversee policing diminished by voters, the Minneapolis City Council revived talks Monday about replacing the Police Department and instituting a ban on no-knock warrants after the killing of Amir Locke by a police officer last week.
At the council's Policy and Government Oversight Committee, council members convened a conversation about no-knock search warrants and the implications of carrying out those practices, bringing together legal authorities, including attorneys for Locke's family and Mayor Jacob Frey.
"This council is not empowered to make policy on policing," said Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, chair of the committee. "That power lies solely in the hands of the mayor. But this doesn't absolve any of us from utilizing the tools that we have, as actors within this institution to generate accountability, to be transparent with the public to make the best information known and to be a part of the solution in making our city safe for everyone."
In November, voters approved a charter amendment that put the mayor in charge of day-to-day operations of most city departments and restricted the council's role to legislative duties such as writing ordinances and vetting city budgets. Voters also rejected a separate ballot question to replace the Police Department with a new public safety agency.
Newly elected Council Member Elliott Payne announced that he will revive a charter amendment Thursday aimed at replacing the MPD with a new public safety department.
The new government structure makes it unclear how much authority the City Council has over the Minneapolis Police Department. Despite their shrunken role in City Hall, council members called for an immediate review of all current and previous reforms, including no-knock warrants.
Despite repeated claims that he has banned the practice, Frey last week placed a moratorium on no-knock warrants.
Frey told council members that his November 2020 policy reform ended the police practice of entering unannounced while serving no-knock warrants, "barring circumstances that could potentially be dangerous, where there was imminent threat to the public, or an individual." Before that, he said, Minneapolis did not have a policy for such warrants.
Pressed by council members, Frey acknowledged that some of his campaign claims about banning no-knock warrants were misleading and not accurate. "As more and more people and outside groups began weighing in, language became more casual, including my own, which did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance. And I own that," he said.
The current moratorium prevents police from requesting a no-knock warrant, the mayor said. "Even with this moratorium in place," Frey said "there may be extremely dangerous circumstances where an officer still can enter without an announcement."
Council Member Emily Koski asked Frey how long the policy review will take and the moratorium will stay in place. The mayor did not have an answer, saying, "I don't want to rush a policy that we need to get right. I know there's an ongoing tension I recognize of doing things quickly and getting them right, and I feel strongly that we need to err on the side of doing this right."
One of Locke's family's attorneys, Ben Crump, told council members that since the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., in spring 2020 only a few states and cities have banned the use of no-knock warrants. Crump said no-knock warrants are "flagrantly irresponsible policy" that disproportionately affects Black people and threatens the lives of innocent citizens, putting cities like Minneapolis at risk for civil rights lawsuits and liability.
"It is Black History Month, and we should all understand the importance of learning from history," Crump said. "We need to do better, Minneapolis. We need to do better, America."
University of St. Thomas Law Prof. Rachel Moran, who studies police accountability, reform and public access to records of police misconduct, said at least 94 people were killed in the United States as a result of no-knock warrants between 2010 and 2016. Thirteen were police officers, she said.
Minnesota law has allowed no-knock warrants for years, but there are few policies specifying when they should and should not be used, Moran said.
"They are dangerous for reasons we've, unfortunately, all had an opportunity to confront recently, but they are historically dangerous," she said.
Council members also heard from Sarah Murtada, a University of St. Thomas law student who testified in favor of new no-knock regulations at the Legislature last year, Murtada lives in Bolero Flats where Locke was killed. She called for transparency and limits on when those warrants are executed, adding that officers must clearly and repeatedly announce their presence in those instances to allow people enough time to answer the door.
"A ban on no-knock warrants does not affect active hostage situations and it also does not affect hot pursuits," Murtada said. "Banning no-knock warrants (in these cases) has no impact."
At a news conference earlier Monday, a coalition of Black women and mothers cited the use of the no-knock warrant at Bolero Flats as an example of Frey and interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman's failure to lead.
"You all said you were going to bring some change," Anika Robbins, founder of Black Votes Matter MN, said of city leaders. "And then you said that you had banned the no-knock warrant. We do not trust you."
Along with members of the Locke family, speakers from organizations such as Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, NAACP Minneapolis and We Win Institute, called for Huffman's resignation and the immediate dismissal of officer Mark Hanneman, who fired the fatal shots. They asked that the other SWAT officers present for the operation either be disciplined or fired.
"We do not want a chief who continues with business as usual," said civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, who is co-chair of Frey's public safety workgroup. "She has shown that she is not fit to serve in that role. … She also has appointed a slew of the good old boys as a part of her administration and has appointed them as lieutenants and other high-ranking positions when several of them have long disciplinary records. That is again, unacceptable. It shows that she is unfit to help shift the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department."
A council committee is slated on Tuesday to discuss the power balance in City Hall and to "level-set among elected policymakers about the core roles, responsibilities, and functional relationships between the Council and Mayor."
Staff writers Christina Saint Louis and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this story.
Editor's note: Previous versions of this story used an incomplete quote by Sarah Murtada, a University of St. Thomas law student.