State Rep. Ray Dehn has called for police to be "disarmed."

Mayor Betsy Hodges just ousted her embattled police chief.

Nekima Levy-Pounds is demanding a "paradigm shift" in police culture in Minneapolis.

Police reform is suddenly moving to the forefront of the race for mayor in Minneapolis, propelled there most recently after an officer on July 15 shot and killed an unarmed woman, Justine Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Candidates for mayor, a job directly responsible for the police department, are scrambling to explain to voters how they will change the Minneapolis Police Department and prevent civilian deaths at the hands of cops.

Reforming the police department has been a priority for Hodges since Jamar Clark was shot and killed in north Minneapolis in the fall of 2015, but Damond's death in voter-rich southwest Minneapolis has renewed calls for change and thrust police reform into an already heated mayoral campaign.

The most striking proposal came from Dehn, a state legislator who finished first in the Minneapolis DFL's no-endorsement convention on July 8, beating out Hodges, Council Member Jacob Frey and Tom Hoch and attracting more than a third of the support from party insiders.

"We must divest resources, disarm officers, and dismantle the inherent violence of our criminal justice system," Dehn said in a statement Friday.

'All things on the table'

He later elaborated on what sounded like a call to take guns from cops, adding he is not advocating against police officers having access to weapons when they need them.

"Officers don't need to carry guns on their person all the time," Dehn said Tuesday. "Currently, officers carry all sorts of assault weapons in their cars. So why can't one of those weapons be the side arm? It's important that we begin to have a conversation, and I would say that all things are on the table."

He acknowledged, however, that "we live in a culture where guns are pervasive. Cops carrying guns is part of a larger conversation about guns in our society," Dehn said.

Frey, who finished second at the DFL convention and called for police Chief Janeé Harteau's ouster the day before she resigned, said the city needs not just a new police chief but a new mayor.

"We need massive reform, not tomorrow, not next week. We need it today," Frey said. "There's a total lack of confidence in the mayor's office and the Minneapolis Police Department right now. People need to feel comfortable calling 911."

Frey said the Police Department must presume misconduct when body cameras are not activated, as happened when officer Mohamed Noor fired his gun through an open patrol car window, killing Damond. He said police must be trained to exhaust all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force, and the department should use technology that automatically activates body cameras, perhaps when an officer draws his or her gun.

"This is clear, objective reform that needs to take place," Frey said.

The mayor, who has spoken repeatedly about police reform since announcing her re-election bid in December, said change in the Police Department has begun, despite the tragedy of Damond's death. Hodges said she is the right person to see that change through, and she has been working with interim Chief Medaria Arradondo on much of it.

The Police Department has introduced body cameras, mandated officer training on how to de-escalate situations, and put officers through training on how to recognize and work through their biases. The department also established policies on sanctity of life, and the duties of officers to report colleague misconduct or intervene when a fellow officer inappropriately uses force.

"We've asked officers to make a lot of change and we need to make sure that transformation happens, but also we need to make sure that the people of Minneapolis can experience those changes as real and not theoretical," Hodges said. "There's a lot more left to be done. We've come a long way, but we are not where we need to go."

Hodges said changes to the body camera policy have already been contemplated and will be announced soon, and she took shots at two of her opponents on Tuesday.

"On my right is Jacob Frey, the police union candidate, who will carry water for [union chief] Bob Kroll," Hodges said. "And on my left is Ray Dehn, who in a nation that is tragically awash in guns, thinks the first people we need to disarm are police officers, and I disagree."

The police union has not endorsed any candidate.

Calls for change

Levy-Pounds noted Tuesday that she was the first mayoral candidate to demand the chief be fired after Damond's death. At a demonstration last week, she repeated her call for a dramatic shift in the culture of law enforcement in Minneapolis.

"Every layer of our system of government has rubber-stamped and reinforced police culture, leaving Minneapolis residents both vulnerable and fearful, and correct in believing that justice is elusive when one's rights have been violated," she said in a statement last week.

Hoch, the former head of the Hennepin Theatre Trust who finished fourth in the balloting at the DFL convention, said he wants to wait until the investigation is complete before he recommends changes, but he said a better-enforced body camera policy is obviously needed. The City Council will hear a briefing on an upcoming audit of the city's body camera program Wednesday afternoon.

"One thing we could do is move to having officers turn their body cameras on all the time," Hoch said. "I don't need to see a presentation to know that's a good place for us to start. What's disheartening about this is we've actually known for months that our officers weren't using their body cameras consistently."

He expects, if he's elected mayor, to conduct a "thorough assessment" of officer training to make sure people feel safe in every neighborhood and comfortable calling the police. People in Minneapolis want strong but fair law enforcement, he said, and police want that too, but voters across the city are worried right now.

"People are hurting. They're concerned about how police will respond, how the community will respond," Hoch said. "There's a lot of turmoil about that, and it keeps people from talking about other issues."

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405

Twitter: @adambelz