The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted Wednesday night to sever its longtime relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, adding to the list of organizations that have cut ties with the local police following the death of George Floyd at the hands of its officers.
The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools, museums and venues have also chosen to limit or end their collaboration with the Police Department in the wake of Floyd’s death May 25, which resulted in the firings and arrests of four officers.
The Park Board’s unanimous vote directs Superintendent Al Bangoura to immediately stop using Minneapolis police officers to staff park-sanctioned events, and block park police officers from responding to nonviolent Minneapolis police calls.
“Recent actions by the Minneapolis Police Department in the alleged murder of George Floyd while in police custody have severely undermined community trust in, and sense of safety around, Minneapolis Police,” the resolution read. “This ... does not support the mission of the [Park Board] and has no place in our parks.”
Commissioners also unanimously voted to create a new uniform for the Park Board’s police force that distinguishes them from Minneapolis police. Officers will now have to wear green; a new design would need to be presented to the board by Oct. 1, according to a separate resolution.
Earlier Wednesday, Bangoura expressed little confidence that park and city police would resume their working relationship anytime soon.
The Minneapolis Police Department “has a long road ahead of them,” he said. “We can’t judge an entire department by the few, [but] there is a lot that is going to have to change.”
The Park Board’s police force is made up of 33 officers, 91% of whom live outside the city, according to the board. Roughly 18% of the city of Minneapolis is Park Board land.
During the meeting, Chief Jason Ohotto of the park police said only 2% of serious violent crimes occur on parkland.
The Minneapolis Police Department assists the park police when there are multiple calls at a time, something which is common during the summer, Ohotto said. Its officers also answer calls in parks in the early mornings.
Ohotto added he could not speak for the Minneapolis police if they would continue to provide that emergency assistance following Wednesday’s vote.
Bangoura said the Park Board’s police would need to search for new partners to cover nearly 2,000 employee hours it needs each year for events large and small. Those agencies could be the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the State Patrol, Metro Transit police and University of Minnesota police.
The vote was held after Park Board employees read an hour’s worth of e-mails sent by residents, most of them supporting the resolution to cut ties with Minneapolis police.
A visibly shaken Bangoura, who is black, said during the meeting he was “angered, devastated and heartbroken” to see the video of Floyd’s arrest.
“I stand in solidarity with those seeking justice, as does the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board,” he said. “We denounce racism in all forms and we support and promote justice.”
The board also voted to create a safety plan that would address policing in the city’s parks by June 17.
“We still have our park police. They will be focusing on our parks spaces,” Park Board President Jono Cowgill said. “This gives us a chance to step back and really have those discussions on what policing looks like in our parks system.”
Other local organizations also announced they were cutting ties with the Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday.
The Walker Art Center announced it would no longer contract with city police for security “for special events until the MPD implements meaningful change to by demilitarizing training programs, holding officers accountable for the use of excessive force, and treating communities of color with dignity and respect.”
The Minneapolis Institute of Art and First Avenue said they would not hire off-duty Minneapolis police officers for their events. In a Twitter post, First Avenue said it would “instead work with local organizations who represent our community, and who will protect and affirm Black and Brown lives.”
In recent days, Minneapolis Public Schools officials said they would no longer have city police act as school resource officers, terminating a $1.15 million annual contract with the city. University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said her school also was cutting some ties with city police, including contracting off-duty security for football games, concerts and ceremonies.
A park police squad car is visible in the viral video of Floyd’s arrest, stationed in front of the Cup Foods while he was pinned to the pavement. Bangoura and Ohotto said Wednesday that the officer was responding to a request for backup, that he was across the street monitoring a vehicle and that he could not see what was happening to Floyd.
The park police was subject to its own public outcry in 2018 after a video showed its officers handcuffing four Somali-American teens at Minnehaha Regional Park, yelling and pointing a handgun at them. The Park Board paid $170,000 in recent months to settle claims filed on behalf of the teens.
Commissioners and Ohotto on Wednesday decried the death of Floyd and the actions of the Minneapolis police. Some said the Park Board now needs to focus on reforming its own force.
“The Park Board has a small enough police force that we can actually make some real change,” said Commissioner Londel French, who is black. “If we don’t do it the right way, our communities burn.”
Staff writers Liz Navratil contributed to this report.