The Potluck

Minneapolis City Council sends proposed police charter amendment to commission for review

By: - March 12, 2021 1:19 pm

A Minneapolis Police Department squad car. Photo by Tony Webster.

The Minneapolis City Council voted 11-2 on Friday to advance a proposed charter amendment that would eliminate the police department and replace it with a new department of public safety under the control of the City Council rather than the mayor.

Shortly after taking the vote, the City Council approved a $27 million settlement agreement with the family of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of police last year set up protests across the world and catalyzed a movement to defund police departments.

The city’s Charter Commission, an unelected body charged with reviewing changes to the city’s charter, will next consider the proposed amendment to the city’s charter, which acts like a constitution.

The City Council tried last year to put a similar measure on the 2020 ballot shortly after Floyd’s death in May. The Charter Commission, however, blocked that effort, by choosing to take more time to consider the proposal. The Charter Commission’s approval is not required in order for the City Council to decide to put the amendment before voters in November.

Council Members Philippe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder renewed the effort this year, providing the council with enough time to get the proposed amendment on the ballot even if the Charter Commission decides to use all its time allowed for review.

“Under today’s charter, our police department continues to use force to injure and to kill residents with alarming regularity. That force is disproportionately targeted at Black people and Indigenous people and people of color,” Fletcher said. “We cannot accept these outcomes as a cost of doing business to keep some of us safe.”

Council Members Lisa Goodman and Linea Palmisano voted against the proposal after Palmisano offered her own last-minute amended version that would have largely kept the charter the same but without a minimum staffing requirement and a stipulation aimed at increasing transparency in the department. That measure failed 8-5.

Palmisano voiced her opposition to turning control of the police over to the 13-member City Council, arguing it would complicate management of the department. She pointed to a recent Charter Commission survey of department heads that found frustration in the city’s already “diffused governance structure,” which gives the City Council control over nearly everything except the police department.

“Why would we want to introduce further blurred accountability, inefficiencies and personality problems into the police department?” Palmisano said. “Of course we need to transform the delivery of our public safety so that it is responsive to the needs and concerns of every city resident … But we should not delude ourselves into thinking this will actually accomplish these goals.”

Palmisano’s amended language, which she said she crafted with the help of Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, was rebuffed by her colleagues, who said Minneapolis has an obligation to make more significant changes to its police department in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“I just cannot wrap my mind around coming out of 2020 with our police department being the catalyst for the rise of a second civil rights movement in this country and the stance being no change is good change,” Cunningham said.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.