Seven months after they pledged to work toward "ending the Minneapolis Police Department," a trio of City Council members have introduced a second proposal that would eliminate the department, though it would keep the police.
The plan calls for the city to create a new Department of Public Safety that includes police and "additional divisions … to provide for a comprehensive approach to public safety beyond law enforcement."
The proposed charter amendment would eliminate the requirement to maintain a minimum number of officers based on the city's population, leaving the force size entirely at the discretion of the mayor and the 13-member City Council.
The question of how to change policing in the eight months since George Floyd's death, raised amid a dramatic increase in violent crime, has divided city leaders and many residents. Any decision to eliminate the Police Department would ultimately need to be approved by voters.
In a statement Thursday, the plan's authors — Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder — said they hoped the change would allow the city to take a more holistic approach to public safety.
"Minneapolis residents are imagining a comprehensive public safety approach that is more effective and more reflective of our values, and they are calling on the city to act," Fletcher said. "This charter amendment creates a structure that supports that vision and allows our city to innovate."
Mayor Jacob Frey said he supports the idea of taking a broader approach to public safety but has deep concerns that this plan would diminish accountability for the department.
"I believe in a comprehensive approach. That's what we're hearing from people," Frey said. "We are not hearing people want to dilute accountability by having the head of public safety report to 14 people."
The city charter, which serves as the city's constitution, has become a focal point in debates about how to change policing following Floyd's death. It requires Minneapolis to maintain a Police Department with a minimum force based on the city's population, and gives the mayor "complete power" over its operations. The latest proposal would remove those lines.
The council members have argued that their plan would actually increase accountability and say it would place the Police Department under the same oversight as other city departments.
Many at City Hall acknowledge that system hasn't always worked well. In interviews with the court-appointed Charter Commission, department leaders said they struggled to manage conflicts among the mayor and 13 council members — and to determine whose decision prevailed when they received conflicting requests.
The Charter Commission is currently considering a proposal that would strengthen the mayor's power over the day-to-day operations of city departments and make it illegal for the council to interfere. Council members instead would focus on passing legislation, approving policies and vetting budgets.
It's possible that both issues could appear on the November ballot, when the mayor and City Council all come up for election.
It's too early to predict how residents might vote. A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll last summer found that voters overwhelmingly supported efforts to fund violence prevention and mental health programs but were divided on whether to reduce the size of the police force. About 44% said city officials shouldn't reduce the force, 40% said they should and 16% were undecided.
Proposing a new department
This is the second time since Floyd's death that council members have proposed ending the Police Department. The Charter Commission blocked a similar proposal from the ballot last year by invoking its right to take more time to review it.
Both proposals sought to create a public safety department, though they called it by different names. Both eliminated the mayor's "complete power" over police and removed the minimum number of officers.
In the earlier proposal, a Division of Law Enforcement Services was theoretically optional, but state law limited the city's ability to actually eliminate officers.
The new proposal says the Department of Public Safety must include a Division of Law Enforcement Services that employs police officers. It does not specify what additional divisions might be included in the department; that would be determined when the council passes additional ordinances.
Fletcher said he imagines they would move the city's Office of Violence Prevention into the new department, and possibly 911 operations. The Fire Department, whose place is enshrined in the city charter, would remain independent.
The effort, now in its early stages, must pass the council and a Charter Commission review before the question would be on the ballot.
Unlike last year, if the council members continue on their current trajectory, the commission will not be able to use its powers of delay to keep the question off the ballot this fall.