Opinion editor's note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
The ballot question that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety has major failings that make it a dangerous and unacceptable gamble for the city.
What Minneapolis wants and needs is actual police reform. A city cried out for justice when Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by squeezing the life out of him, a minute at a time in full view of spectators. But the cry was for more than justice. It was for change, for an end to acts of police brutality committed in the name of law enforcement.
Minneapolis needs police — good ones. The ones who welcome accountability and transparency. Who want, as much as anyone, to be rid of the rogue cops in their midst, who have the training and ability to curb the current surge of violent crime.
Regrettably, this amendment — called City Question 2 — would accomplish none of that. It would replace the title of Minneapolis Police Department with that of "Department of Public Safety." It would replace a police chief, answerable to the mayor, with a commissioner who would answer not only to the mayor, but to each of 13 council members — a recipe for chaos and infighting.
It would wipe out requirements for a minimum police force that even if reached would be considered inadequate compared to similar-sized cities. Disturbingly, Minneapolis is now more than 100 officers below its mandated minimum.
Beyond that, there simply is no plan for public safety in Minnesota's largest city and economic engine if the ballot measure is approved. Instead, there are grandiose interpretations by supporters who claim transformational changes would be unleashed if only the amendment passes. But there is no road map on how to get there.
Voters are supposed to trust that a new City Council would be able to craft a plan, with all those elusive details, at a later date. Would it come within 30 days? Because that's how soon the amendment would take effect. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, a well-respected figure in the community who worked his way up from patrolman and who took the dramatic step of testifying against Chauvin in court, has said the new structure would be "a wholly unbearable position for any law enforcement leader or police chief."
Following Floyd's death, noted New York University economist Morgan Williams, who is Black and who specializes in the economics of crime and incarceration policy, set out to determine whether adding more police would, in fact, reduce crime. His findings are key to the ballot question being considered.
Williams and his team examined data from the FBI and from 242 cities between 1981 and 2018. They found that adding more police did, in fact reduce homicides and crimes such as robbery, rape and aggravated assault. Moreover, the effect was more pronounced in Black communities, who were victimized at higher rates than the white population.
That may explain why a whopping 75% of Black respondents in a recent Minnesota Poll said they oppose reducing the number of police. Unfortunately, there are other byproducts Williams found, including — too often — more arrests for low-level petty crimes, especially among minorities.
That is where a strong police chief becomes key. Arradondo, as outlined in a Star Tribune Opinion commentary by former Minneapolis budget director Jay Kiedrowski, has worked hard to institute more and better training on de-escalation, which in turn makes for better and safer policing. When too many officers were found to be turning body cameras off or just failing to turn them on, he increased compliance.
In 2019, Mayor Jacob Frey and Arradondo worked to make the city among the first to ban warrior training, a fear-based technique that conditions officers to treat all encounters as dangerous threats, and to prioritize their own safety over that of civilians. Arradondo has also begun to include mental health professionals in call responses where appropriate — something that could be expanded with more funding. He has ended traffic stops for low-level offenses, focusing officers on more serious crime.
These are real reforms. Changing a toxic culture is hard work that requires patience and persistence. Similar reforms have benefited St. Paul, where, as described in an editorial last week, officers for the last five years have been trained to work in teams instead of performing "lone takedowns," to de-escalate, and to rely less on "pain compliance."
The results are compelling: a 37% reduction in use of force; an 86% drop in officers striking suspects. These are the kind of changes that make for better, more humane policing that makes the entire community safer.
The reforms that are most needed in Minneapolis can be accomplished without changing the charter. Instead, the change is intended to accomplish two aims: Shrink the police force — hence the fierce battle to include the phrase "if necessary" regarding the inclusion of officers — and wrest control from the mayor, who would become only one of 14 voices on public safety.
In June 2020, a majority of the current council stood in front of a banner that read "DEFUND POLICE." Now comes an amendment whose primary purpose is to repeal the requirement — and dedicated funding — for a minimum number of police. That is reason enough to question the true motives of proponents.
We urge Minneapolis residents to vote no on City Question 2, and instead to demand genuine reforms that include input by the community and all the hard discussions needed to determine how to reimagine law enforcement. Because whether this amendment passes or fails, that is the task ahead of us — to work together for better, more effective, humane law enforcement that creates a safer environment for all of Minneapolis.
CITY QUESTION 2
Department of Public Safety
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.