Minneapolis City Council to take up change to city charter eliminating Police Department

Photo by Tony Webster.

The Minneapolis City Council plans to vote Friday on moving forward with an amendment to the city charter that would replace the Police Department with a new public safety entity. 

It’s the first step to getting it on the ballot in November, when Minneapolis voters could decide the fate of the department. Under the proposed amendment, the Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, which would prioritize a “holistic, public health-oriented approach” to public safety, according to the amendment language.

Mayor Jacob Frey said he remains opposed to abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department, setting up a high-stakes confrontation with the City Council about the future of the department and his own tenure as mayor. 

City Council members in favor of replacing the department appear to have the votes to do it — even if Frey vetoes the proposal. Nine members of the 13-member council — 12 now, due to a vacancy — came out in support of defunding the department earlier this month, and Council Member Steve Fletcher said the consensus remains.

Five Minneapolis City Council members authored an amendment to the city’s charter to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new entity.

The City Council unanimously voted June 12 to restructure public safety, but without any specific plan. Because of Frey’s authority as mayor over the Police Department, Fletcher said they need a change to the city charter to proceed.

The amendment would be a devastating blow to Frey’s influence, both over the Police Department and the city’s politics.  

Frey said today his position remains unchanged since he came out against defunding the department in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

“We need to make deep, structural changes that address systemic racism in policing, but abolishing the department does not move Minneapolis in the right direction,” he told the Reformer.

Fletcher said the amendment to the city’s charter — which is like the city’s constitution — would pave the way for change.

“And we’re creating a checkpoint, essentially, on Election Day where the public gets to vote on structural change,” he said. “If we get different feedback on the ballot, that’ll tell us we need to look at our approach.”

Fletcher said the council may need a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules on a procedural issue Friday to meet deadlines to get the issue on the ballot, but “absolutely” has the votes to do it.

If the City Council OKs the proposal Friday, the amendment would then go to the Charter Commission, which is expected to take up the issue on July 8. The Charter Commission has 60 days to respond, which it can extend by another 90 days. 

If the panel took the full 60 days, that would prevent the amendment from getting on the November ballot.

“We are hoping that the Charter Commission will act more quickly than they are legally obligated to,” Fletcher said.

The Charter Commission has indicated if members decide to hold a second meeting on the issue, they would do so in July rather than wait for the August meeting, Fletcher said.

“We’re not going to hide behind our meeting calendar,” Charter Commission Chairman Barry Clegg said Wednesday.

For significant charter amendments, the commission would typically hold multiple public hearings in different parts of the city. Clegg expects the commission would have more than one public hearing on the amendment at hand.

The commission can approve, deny or suggest revisions to the amendment, which goes back to the City Council. 

Regardless of what the commission or mayor does, the City Council can choose to move forward anyway with a two-thirds majority. Fletcher believes the votes are there. 

City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said considering the brutal nature of Floyd’s murder and history of police scandals, unanimous passage should be expected. 

He also said he hopes the Charter Commission doesn’t hold up the process.

In 2018, the 15-member commission took the extra 90 days to hold public hearings on a proposed amendment that would have given the City Council more authority over the Police Department, preventing the proposal from getting on the ballot that year. 

Currently, the charter gives the mayor “complete power” over the department.

“It kind of died a slow, bureaucratic death,” Ellison said. “My hope is that people won’t stand for it on this issue.”

Frey opposed that charter amendment, and appears poised to oppose this one, too. 

He said he would reserve comment on the amendment until the language was finalized and introduced. 

“We also need to stay focused and press for changes to state law, engage community and undertake meaningful reforms to help Chief (Medaria) Arradondo – and officers who are committed to his vision – shift the department’s culture,” Frey said. “It’s hard, complex work – and we can’t pretend that eliminating the department is a serious substitute for that hard work.”

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