BY STEPHANIE FOX
Members of the City Council have been working since last summer to get a proposal on the city ballot that they hope will drastically reform the Minneapolis Police Department. Council members say that they envision a new Community Safety and Violence Prevention Department, which would include the MDP but remove the Police Department as a charter city department.
Council Members Jeremy Schroeder, Phillipe Cunningham and Steve Fletcher are behind the new proposal, one that would drastically change how the MPD is organized and funded.
The Minneapolis City Charter now says that the MPD must have a minimum force based on the city’s population. According to the charter, the size of the police force must be at least 0.0017 employees per resident. The current charter gives the mayor control over the department’s operations with the City Council responsible for determining funding.
The call for change in the MPD began last summer when George Floyd died at the hands of police. Floyd’s death was followed by demonstrations and riots, and, at first, the calls for change were uncompromising.
In June, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council attended a rally in Powderhorn Park, joining with community groups Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block, to advocate defunding and dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department. At the rally, some council members pledged to the crowd that they would support efforts to defund the police.
Republicans around the country, including the GOP candidate for president, began to use the accusation that all Democratic candidates would “defund the police,” using the charge as a way to rally their supporters. The local backlash to “defund the police” was also harsh when the issue attracted national attention, causing some council members to backpedal and soften their language.
Council Member Steve Fletcher wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine, “reform can be daunting, even scary” but asked readers to “reimagine what public safety means.”
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham told The New York Times that the language in the pledge was “up for interpretation.”
“It was very clear that most of us had interpreted that language differently,” he said.
Council members now say they simply want to change the city charter so the council would have more control over the MPD. Instead of the current system, a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention could include a reformed department of police.
In a press release, the council members said that a new department would “oversee and lead a continuum of public safety efforts that prevent, intervene in, and reduce crime and violence to create safer communities for everyone in Minneapolis.”
Changing the City Charter requires a citywide vote. Cunningham said their new proposal will place oversight on the new city department equal to other city departments and would give the City Council legislative authority with the mayor having executive control.
At a community meeting in the summer of 2019, two members of the City Council, Jeremy Schroeder and Andrew Johnson, heard constituents in the 11th and 12th wards express concern about the then-rising property crime rate. They both said that more police officers, not fewer, would help solve the crime problems.
“We would like to see what we all can do as citizens to make things better. We all want better response times,” Schroeder told them. “People want a beat cop in their neighborhood. We need more of a budget for cops, but these things might not happen. Officers are doing great work, but this is about getting better results.”
Then in 2020, as the crime rate in Minneapolis began to soar, the idea of defunding police continued to lose much of its popular support. This January the number of people wounded by gunshots in Minneapolis was up 250 percent, rape was up 22 percent and robbery was up 59 percent compared to January of last year.
“After the killing of George Floyd and widespread public outcry in our communities, the City Council made a commitment to transform our public safety system,” Schroeder said when asked about the new proposal. “To that end, we proposed a change to our City Charter that would provide a more flexible structure. After a public hearing, this proposal may then be forwarded to the Minneapolis Charter Commission for its review, as required by law.”
The new proposal is similar to one that was advanced last year by the City Council. That proposal never made it to the November ballot after being blocked, after the appointed members of the Charter Commission were granted more time to review it, pushing it past the deadline for a ballot question.
The new proposal would create a Department of Public Safety that would include the police and additional divisions that would “provide for a comprehensive approach to public safety beyond enforcement,” and would leave the size of the MPD to the City Council and the mayor. The proposal has been forwarded, on an 11-2 vote, to the Public Health and Safety Committee for review, after which it would be presented for a future public hearing.
In a late January statement, Fletcher, Cunningham and Schroeder said they wanted to give Minneapolis residents a chance to re-envision public safety in the city.
“Minneapolis residents are imagining a comprehensive public safety approach that is more effective and more reflective of our values, and they are calling on the City to act,” Fletcher said. “This charter amendment creates a structure that supports that vision and allows our city to innovate.”
Not all members of the council are enthusiastic. Council Member Lisa Goodman, who voted not to forward the plan, said that if the Council moves ahead without first spending considerably more time hearing from residents and determining the details, the plan would create more harm than good.
But proponents think that the time for change is now. “Throughout 2020, we heard from residents from all walks of life about what they want to see from a system of public safety,” said Cunningham. “The changes in this proposal reflect that we listened to that feedback.”
“Minneapolis residents have a unified vision for a broader public safety that keeps everyone in our communities safe and treats us all with dignity,” said Schroeder. “This change would not only expand our public safety toolbox, but would improve oversight and accountability, both of which are critical building blocks of a Minneapolis that is safe and equitable for all.”
In early December, Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo had called the proposed cuts to the MPD “irresponsible and untenable,” saying that it would put the public in danger. Arradondo cited more than 500 shootings and 80 homicides, calling the proposal to reduce the number of police reckless.
While calling for modifications in how the city works to improve public safety, Mayor Jacob Frey said that changes the council has proposed, which include removing the mayor as the ultimate authority over the MPD and adding the 13 council members, would dramatically reduce accountability. It is “not a recipe for providing clear direction. It’s not a recipe for a culture shift we want to see in the department.”
In December, Frey signed a city budget that took nearly $8 million from the MPD budget to pay for crime prevention programs through the department, including mental health crisis response and emergency response teams, but retained the current number of officers. This was a compromise after the City Council had approved a proposal to cut the city’s authorized police force by 138 officers. Instead, the department will be keeping staffing at current levels.
The details on the new department’s function, structure and methods of operation have not yet been determined. The council is hoping that members of the community will help with this effort.
The city has posted a two-question short-answer (or perhaps essay questions) survey “Transforming Community Safety in Minneapolis” to learn how residents feel about transforming community safety. The questions: “When you think about transforming community safety, what are your hopes?” and “When you think about transforming community safety, what are your concerns?” are available on the City of Minneapolis website.
In our February Powderhorn edition we said, “Council Members Jeremy Schroeder, Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Linea Palmisano are behind the new proposal, which could drastically change how the MPD is organized and funded.”
Linea Palmisano did not support this change in the structuring of the MPD and voted against it.