Keith Ellison's opinion piece regarding the policing question on the ballot in Minneapolis is similar to so much that I've heard and read from proponents of the amendment ("Let the amendment start a conversation," Opinion Exchange, Sept. 27). Citizens must "get through fear" and have hope and faith to build a better future.
Why should anyone have hope and faith in those backing the amendment when they've had a year and a half to come up with concrete proposals for different methods of policing and test those strategies? But that hasn't been done, and no comprehensive plans for improving public safety are in place while dozens in our city have been murdered and hundreds more shot.
I have neither been a police officer nor known one personally, but I cannot imagine doing what they do, risking their lives each day they go to work. Minneapolis needs them, and until there are proven methods of doing their work differently and more effectively, the idea of abolishing the Police Department is absurd and dangerous. Ellison is being dishonest when he says, "It is just not true that the amendment will eliminate the Police Department." The amendment specifically says it will "replace" the Minneapolis Police Department and remove language from the Minneapolis City Charter on the Police Department.
Keith Ellison is the chief legal officer for our state. I have been a lifelong Democrat and voted for Ellison, but we need an attorney general who offers more than hope and faith to protect the lives of our citizens.
Rick Groger, Minneapolis
Most people in Minneapolis agree that we need a holistic approach to safety and crime prevention: addiction response, investigation and violence prevention — in addition to police. That's why I'm voting "yes" on City Question 2 for a new Department of Public Safety. It could continue to include police (as Minnesota state law requires — only police can respond to certain crimes) but with the flexibility to hire more staff with these special skills. Then police can focus on the true crisis situations. Now, with the minimum number of officers written into the charter, it's too restrictive; we don't do this for any other job, and this is unusual for major city charters.
Joel Abrahamson, Minneapolis
Until Monday morning, I was a solid "no" vote for the Minneapolis public safety charter amendment. Now, I am back to undecided. I need to understand more factual information before I vote either way. That said, Ellison's commentary did clarify a few key items for me. First, I now understand that the supporters of this amendment agree that we need police officers on the street. Second, as he writes, "the council cannot and will not manage the daily operation of the police department or any department." And third, the supporters of the amendment agree that armed officers are necessary.
This helped me. Unfortunately, big questions still remain, and in order for me to make an informed decision, I need some questions answered. But before I lay those out, I have a few comments. I do agree that of the current pool of police officers, there are a percentage of those who need to find a different job based on complaints, record, performance and lack of teamwork. Why not do a deep dive into the current population of officers and weed out the bad ones? I also believe that our current officers are spread thin and do not have the proper training to successfully address some of the 911 calls, either initially or how they escalate. Armed police officers and tax dollars are being spent on situations that could otherwise be addressed by a properly trained mental health public safety officer who works with a police officer in partner fashion. Doing this would better allocate the services we need to deploy to these situations that two armed cops may not be able to appropriately address due to lack of training.
My questions are:
- How many armed police officers are the "yes" supporters proposing?
- How many mental health public safety officers are the "yes" supporters proposing?
- Would our current approved budget support this, and if not, how much would it need to increase, and how much would the average Minneapolitan's tax dollars have to increase to support this?
- Please clarify that there will never be a time where an insufficient number of armed police officers will be patrolling the streets. And please reiterate what that number is.
- What remedial training would the current police officers go through in order to successfully partner up with mental health public safety officers, and what metrics would they be held to?
- Help me understand what the role of the City Council is in the "yes" proposal.
Sarah Johanns, Minneapolis
Imagine you run a small business and hear that your major customer is unhappy with your service. What would you do?
Would you call up a friend who works there and find out what the problems are? Would you talk with your employees and find ways to address every complaint of the customer?
Or would you do the opposite and complain that you never liked that customer? Would you tell your employees it's a good time to take off any saved-up vacation time? Would you tell them to stay in the office and ignore the customer until they call? How long could you stay in business with that kind of approach?
But wait! Your business has a contract with this customer that requires them to pay a specified number of your employees, but fails to include any performance requirements. So relax, you can totally ignore your customer's complaints.
What customer would ever sign such a one-sided contract? The city of Minneapolis essentially did this with the Police Department. The city charter requires employment of a specified number of police officers but includes no performance criteria whatsoever. Either this employment guarantee should be removed from the charter, or the ability of the city to fire any police officer who doesn't perform to standards set by the city should be added. My opinion is that neither the employment guarantee nor the performance standards belong in a city charter.
Ron Bardell, St. Louis Park
The proponents of City Question 2 have not been upfront about what would happen to the police union if the charter amendment passes. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote in Opinion Exchange on Sept. 1 that "One of the biggest impediments to change is the Minneapolis Police Federation. ... [T]he union routinely shields bad cops from any discipline." She implies that the amendment would fix this problem. In reality, the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act gives police offices the right to unionize and the right for the union to challenge discipline and discharge decisions through arbitration.
Proponents, retreating from "defund the police," now say that if the amendment passes, there would still be police officers, just fewer of them. Therefore, there would still be a police union, probably the same union, and the police officers would still have arbitration rights. Omar and the other proponents are either unaware of this or are being deliberately misleading. Either possibility is appalling.
The city should seek legislative authority to eliminate the police union or restrict arbitration rights or both. For example, arbitration rights could be limited if a case involves police brutality, or evidentiary standards could be changed so that a city's failure to take action against police misconduct in the past in not a basis for preventing the city from taking action in the present.
These changes would be controversial. However, police misconduct is a serious problem requiring serious solutions. Unlike the proposed charter amendment, changing state law would address one of the actual obstacles to police reform.
Thomas C. Vasaly, Minneapolis
We want to hear from you. Send us your thoughts here.