Defunding or dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department has become a cohesive cry from protesters since the death of George Floyd under the knee of a city officer two weeks ago.
On Sunday, nine Minneapolis City Council members told a crowd they were prepared to “begin the process of dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department.”
A day before, Mayor Jacob Frey was unwilling to support defunding and was jeered by a crowd for saying he favored reforms. Here are some answers to questions about the future of policing in Minneapolis.
Why is the City Council talking about dismantling or defunding the Minneapolis Police Department?
The killing of Floyd, captured on video by a bystander and considered by many to be a modern-day lynching, shocked the community’s conscience and launched two weeks of global protests from one Minneapolis street corner.
But the problem is long-standing. The city’s poorer and minority residents on whom police disproportionately use force are often wary of trusting Minneapolis police.
What do Minneapolis City Council members mean by dismantling the police department?
The Council has not released any specifics. The council members have articulated support for the concept, but the details will be more difficult.
There are clues. Last Friday, the Council met in an emergency session and banned choke holds and neck restraints in all circumstances.
Even before Floyd’s death, the current City Council refused requests from Mayor Jacob Frey to increase the number of police on city streets. Last year, the council rejected Frey’s budget proposal to increase the number of officers on the street. Then in early March, the council rebuffed Frey’s request to apply for a federal grant for more officers.
Is dismantling different from defunding?
Dismantling implies abolition of the current structure. Defunding refers to shaving the budget.
Behind both is the idea of shifting resources from a paramilitary police force to education and social services with the aim of reducing socioeconomic disparities.
Will there be police on the streets of Minneapolis this summer?
Yes. The council for now has nine members agreeing on the concept of dismantling the department, but there are no agreements on the details or a plan of action for next steps.
What is the Minneapolis Police Department budget?
$193.3 million in 2020 with 892 sworn officers and 175 civilian employees.
Can the Council “defund” the police and stop paying them?
The Council must follow the City Charter which requires the funding of “a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation, for which purpose it may tax the taxable property in the City up to 0.3 percent of its value annually.”
As for what size police force the charter requires, a city spokesman would say that’s a “legal interpretation” that he wouldn’t answer.
Who can change the charter?
The council alone cannot do this. It needs to be a 13-0 vote with the mayor’s approval. But three council members have not said whether they support the dismantling and one seat is vacant.
It’s unclear whether a 12-0 vote would be considered unanimous for the purpose of changing the charter.
Can voters change the charter?
Yes, if a simple majority vote to do so on a citywide ballot question.
What would replace the police?
The idea generally would be to have a social services-based approach, possibly using the fire department to handle drug overdose calls, health care and social services professionals to tend to mental health matters instead of militaristic, uniformed officers with guns.
But even the council members who want to dismantle the police aren’t yet articulating detailed agreement on a new approach.
Has any city in the United States done this?
There have been some attempts at shifting focus.
The police force in Camden, N.J., was dissolved and absorbed by the county sheriff, doubling the size of the latter. Training shifted into heavily emphasizing deescalation tactics where restraints and force were used as a last resort.
There’s been movement elsewhere as well to change the model. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has embraced removing $150 million from the $2 billion police budget. Last year, 911 operators in Austin, Texas, 911 began asking callers whether they are seeking police, fire or mental health assistance.
Longtime civil rights activist as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was in town last week, said pressure for change in policing practices is at unprecedented levels with white people marching in the streets alongside people of color across the country.