MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis voters are deciding whether to replace the city's embattled police department with a new Department of Public Safety, a proposal that evolved from calls to “defund the police” after the May 2020 death of George Floyd under a Minneapolis police officer's knee.
There has been an emotional debate over what the proposed changes to the city charter will or won't do. Will the city still have police, and how many? The truth is that the details aren't spelled out. The City Council and the mayor would have to agree on at least the broad outlines of the new system within a month after the election.
Here's a look at the amendment and the arguments on both sides leading up to Tuesday's election:
WHAT'S ON THE BALLOT?
Ballot proposal No. 2 asks voters whether the city charter should be amended to remove its requirement that the city have a police department with a minimum staffing level. It would be replaced with a new Department of Public Safety that would take a “comprehensive public health approach” that “could include” police officers “if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety.” The new department would be led by a commissioner nominated by the mayor and appointed by the council.
WHAT WOULD THE NEW AGENCY DO?
Supporters of the change describe a new “holistic” approach to public safety that wouldn't require sending armed police officers on every call, such as for people having a mental health crisis. They want other professionals available who have expertise in mental health, housing, violence reduction and intervention.
But all that would depend on whatever agreement the City Council and mayor could forge if it passes. Also left to be determined is who would lead the new department. Medaria Arradondo, the city’s popular Black chief, has said passage would put any law enforcement leader in a “wholly unbearable position.”
WOULD MINNEAPOLIS STILL HAVE COPS?
Almost certainly, but it's not guaranteed how many. Supporters of a new department point out that city ordinances and state statutes contain numerous references to police that effectively mean the new department would still have to have them if the amendment passes. But the charter requirement that the city “must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident” would be gone, with funding and staffing levels left for the council and mayor to determine.
The Minneapolis Police Department is already down nearly 300 officers, one-third below its authorized maximum of 888. Only 588 were actually available to work as of mid-October, compared with the charter-mandated minimum of about 730. A major reason is officers quitting, retiring or going on disability leaves for post-traumatic stress disorder following the sometimes violent unrest, looting and arson that followed Floyd's death. Critics of the proposal blame the dropoff in officers for the surge in gun violence and other crimes that Minneapolis has experienced since then.
WHY DO SUPPORTERS SAY IT'S NEEDED?
Supporters, including the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, say the new response options afforded by the “public health approach” would reduce excessive police force and turn the focus to prevention. They say the changes are needed to uproot a police culture that resists change and protects bad apples. They say the new approach ultimately would make the community safer for everyone, including people of color. And they say the new department would be accountable to the entire city because it would have to answer to the 13-member City Council instead of just the mayor.
WHY DO THE OPPONENTS SAY?
Opponents, including the All of Mpls campaign, say the biggest problem is there is no plan, making it a dangerous gamble. Many say they support a lot of the changes proponents want to see, such as the greater reliance on unarmed professionals. But they say it's not necessary to amend the city charter to accomplish those goals. Many opponents also distrust the City Council, given that a majority of current members, shortly after Floyd's death, stood on a stage bearing a prominent “Defund Police” sign and pledged to dismantle the department.
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