The Potluck

Minneapolis voters will decide fate of the police department in November

By: - July 23, 2021 3:43 pm

A supermajority of the Minneapolis City Council committed to dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department before a crowd gathered at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 7, 2020. The decision came after protests and riots in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. The event, “The Path Forward: Community Meeting with City Council Members,” was organized by Reclaim The Block and Black Visions. Photo by Tony Webster.

The Minneapolis City Council voted 12-1 to put a citizen-led petition on the ballot this November, which if passed would dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and create a new department of violence prevention and community safety.

The vote, with only Council Member Lisa Goodman voting nay, was largely a formality. Still, it  marks what will likely be the final bureaucratic step — barring a mayoral veto that would have to be overridden with nine votes — in a yearlong effort to let voters decide on making drastic changes to the city’s police department after George Floyd’s murder.

Floyd’s murder under the knee of a police officer roiled the city over the past year and widened a chasm on the future of policing between the most progressive members of the council and its left-of-center members and mayor.

The vote sets up a high stakes campaign that will determine both who controls the police department — the mayor or the council — and what the department will look like. The conflict comes amid an increase in violent crime since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the loss of more than 200 officers to resignations, retirements and disability claims.

The petition was organized by a group called Yes 4 Minneapolis, which submitted more than 14,000 valid signatures. The City Council was tasked with approving the language that would appear on the ballot but could not change the substance of the proposal.

A majority of City Council members tried last year to put their own question before voters in November 2020 to eliminate the Police Department and replace it with a new department oriented toward a public health approach to violence and with fewer police officers. That effort was effectively blocked by the Charter Commission, an appointed body tasked with overseeing the city’s charter opted.

Mayor Jacob Frey, who does not support the effort, has until July 29 to decide whether to approve or veto the resolution, or to allow the resolution to become effective without his signature.

The question that will appear on this fall’s ballot must receive at least 51% approval in order to pass and will go into effect 30 days after the election.

It will be accompanied by two questions related to rent control and a fourth question, proposed by the Charter Commission, that would remake the city’s government structure by giving more power to the mayor.

Here is how the public safety question will appear on the ballot with the following accompanying explanatory note:

Department of Public Safety

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach, and which would 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? Yes _______ No _______

Explanatory Note

This amendment would create a new Department of Public Safety, which would:

(1) Combine public safety functions of the City of Minneapolis into a comprehensive public health approach to safety, with the specific public safety functions to be determined.

(2) Include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the Department of Public Safety.

(3) Be led by a Commissioner of Public Safety. The appointment process for the Commissioner would include a Mayor nomination and a City Council appointment. The Mayor would not have complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the Department of Public Safety.

This amendment would also do the following:

(1) Remove from the Charter a Police Department, which includes the removal of its Police Chief, and the removal of the Mayor’s complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the Police Department.

(2) Remove the City Council requirement to fund a police force of at least 1.7 employees per 1,000 residents.

(3) Remove City Council authorization to impose additional taxation on taxable property in the City of Minneapolis of up to 0.3 percent of its value annually to fund the compensation of employees of the police force.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently 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.