A recent virtual public hearing illustrated the continuing deep divide among residents about the future of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). During last week's session, about 100 callers commented on whether voters should decide if the MPD is eliminated and replaced. Earlier hearings on the subject drew hundreds more.
At issue is a proposed Minneapolis charter amendment offered by City Council members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder. If approved, it would end the city requirement for a stand-alone Police Department and replace the MPD with a Department of Public Safety that would include law enforcement but provide a more "comprehensive approach."
Their change to the city's constitution would remove current charter language that requires a minimum number of police based on the city's population. And it would take away the mayor's "complete power" over the MPD and give it to the 13-member council.
What's unclear is how that strategy would significantly improve public safety or address systemic problems with policing in Minneapolis. So far, the arguments in favor of creating a new public safety department have been sketchy and unconvincing.
While the council debate continues, the citizens group Yes 4 Minneapolis is collecting signatures to place a similar question on the November ballot. Their petition drive, which must have 20,000 signatures to advance, is supported by a coalition of progressive groups including the ACLU, Reclaim the Block and TakeAction Minnesota.
The death of George Floyd in MPD custody last spring brought to a head legitimate and longstanding concerns about racial bias and use of excessive force. The rallying cry of dozens of peaceful demonstrations was right — the department must be transformed to make sure that officers don't abuse their power and are held accountable if they do. But making the needed hiring, training and cultural changes can be done without eliminating the MPD and turning control over to a 13-member group of bosses.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued before, the both/and approach is best. The city should continue its work on changing the collective mind-set in the MPD while also expanding its public health and violence prevention strategies.
If an amendment to eliminate the department does end up on the November ballot, voters ought to consider this: A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 poll in August found that while nearly three-quarters of registered voters in the city supported redirecting some police funding to social services, only 40% supported reducing the size of the police force.
And hundreds of citizens who have testified during recent hearings said they did not want to see the MPD eliminated, especially in light of increased levels of crime in Minneapolis. They rightly believe that a city with more than 400,000 residents needs a law enforcement agency that is directly accountable to a mayor who is elected citywide.
It's not a certainty that a charter amendment on policing will appear on the November ballot, but as the debate continues, Minneapolis residents should make their voices heard.