More details out on Minneapolis policing proposal

State Patrol officers stand guard in front of a burned down apartment building on May 29 in Minneapolis. Law enforcement surrounded the area around the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct headquarters after riots broke out. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

More details were released Thursday about a proposal to restructure policing in Minneapolis. 

Three Minneapolis City Council members have authored a proposed amendment to the city charter, which is like a constitution, that would dismantle the police department and replace it with a new public safety agency. 

The proposed amendment comes in response to the police killing of George Floyd last year. The unrest that followed combined with the pandemic to produce a rise in violent crime and wave of police resignations, retirements and disability claims. 

Under the proposed amendment, the police department would no longer be a stand-alone department but fall under the umbrella of a new public safety agency. 

Voters would have to ultimately approve the charter change in November in what promises to be a momentous election. Voters will be selecting a mayor and City Council, as well as another potential charter amendment dealing with the power of the mayor’s office and a third on a rent stabilization scheme.  

The amendment would create a new department similar to the state Department of Public Safety, with a commissioner nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council. Currently, the mayor appoints a police chief and the city’s executive committee — created by referendum in 1984 to share power between the mayor and council — approves the appointment. 

The proposed new department would include a law enforcement division composed of peace officers, with a chief appointed by the public safety commissioner and confirmed by the council and mayor. The council would also “maintain additional divisions of the department to provide for a comprehensive approach to public safety beyond law enforcement.”

Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder authored the amendment, which is on the council’s Friday agenda. They also will work on an ordinance laying out details of the proposed new Department of Public Safety.

“Minneapolis residents have a unified vision for a broader public safety system that keeps everyone in our communities safe and treats us all with dignity,” Schroeder said in a press release. “This change would not only expand our public safety toolbox, but would also improve oversight and accountability.”

Cunningham added that the council heard feedback from residents last year, and the proposal reflects that. Fletcher said residents are calling on the city to create a new public safety approach more reflective of their values, and this proposal “supports that vision and allows our city to innovate.”

Mayor Jacob Frey’s spokesman responded saying, “Mayor Frey has heard the community calling for safety services that go beyond policing. But he has not heard residents say we need to dilute accountability by the head of public safety reporting to 14 elected officials with divergent opinions.”

The City Council first must vote to refer the proposal to the Policy & Government Oversight Committee, and then the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which stymied the council’s efforts in 2018 and 2020 to get public safety reform on the November ballots. 

This time, the commission won’t be able to stop the issue by delaying action, as it has in the past. Last year, council members proposed a charter amendment that would have replaced the police department with a new public safety agency, given the council more control over the department, stripped a minimum staffing requirement from the charter and taken a “holistic, public health-oriented approach” to public safety.

But it didn’t make it onto the ballot because the Charter Commission took its legally allowed extra 90 days to review the proposal before ultimately recommending against it.

In the meantime, the Charter Commission is considering its own charter amendment that would give the mayor more power, and the council less. Their amendment would scrap the executive committee — made up of up to three council members and chaired by the mayor — that negotiates with unions and approves appointments. 

Their amendment would have the mayor appoint department heads, subject to confirmation by the council, and they would serve longer terms. Currently, department heads serve for two years, except the police chief, who serves three-year terms. The commission is considering bumping those up to four-year terms.

If both proposals wind up on the November ballot — the charter commission is empowered to put its own ideas on the ballot — voters would have a choice between its elected council’s public safety reforms, and its unelected commission’s idea for restructuring city government. Several council members have proposed another to limit rent increases. 

Frey is also up for re-election, along with the entire 13-member City Council, in the first municipal elections since Floyd’s death and the unrest that followed. It will mark the first chance voters get to weigh in since a majority of council members vowed to defund the police after Floyd’s death in the hands of police.