BY CAM GORDON
Many people were surprised when, on March 29, the city of Minneapolis announced plans to rehouse a police station at one of two locations in the Southside’s 3rd Precinct.
According to the announcement, from July 2020 to December 2022 city staff had been examining potential sites for a new police station and had settled on two that met their criteria. One is at the former police facility at 3000 Minnehaha Ave. and the other is a vacant city-owned lot at 2600 Minnehaha Ave.
The required criteria are that a building be located within the precinct (bounded by the Mississippi River, the city’s southern border, and highways I-35W and I-94,) be 1.5 acres or larger, have two points of entry, be zoned properly, and be easily accessed. The officers currently assigned to serve the precinct are now stationed in a city-owned building at 309 2nd Ave. S. downtown. City staff said a station in the area is needed to improve “police presence, partnerships and connections to the community.”
“Identifying two viable locations for the 3rd Precinct building has been an enterprise-wide effort, and I’m grateful to our staff who have worked around the clock to produce a thorough analysis for neighbors to consider,” said Mayor Jacob Frey.
Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley was surprised by the announcement. Last year in May she helped secure funding for community engagement about the future of the now-vacant precinct building. Her motion, which was approved by the council and signed by the mayor, authorized using $100,000 “as contract dollars for consulting services to establish a comprehensive engagement process to include stakeholders in the next steps and redevelopment of the 3rd Precinct site, which includes a community understanding and benefits agreement.”
“I was shocked to learn from the Interim COO [Chief Operating Officer] that the mayor had sidelined the original intent of my allocation to instead focus engagement around the relocation of the 3rd Precinct police facility,” Wonsley said after the announcement. “This was a complete bait and switch.” The 2600 Minnehaha site is in the ward she represents.
The other site, the previous police headquarters, is in Ward 9. “The 9th Ward is the most racially diverse ward in the entire city of Minneapolis. Any approach should ensure that our diverse neighbors can participate,” wrote Ward 9 Council Member Jason Chavez following the city announcement. “My office has not been consulted or engaged on how to go about these efforts. In fact, council members were informed about these two locations only the night before it went public.”
Also in March, city officials announced that they were working with DeYoung Consulting Services and the Longfellow Community Council (LCC) to collect feedback, conduct a survey and convene a series of conversations about a location for the station.
LCC has been involved in the future of police services in the area since the 3rd Precinct police station was damaged and abandoned. In 2022 it convened meetings and conducted a survey to get input about alternative uses for the building and plans for the location of the 3rd Precinct officers.
At the time of the Request for Proposal LCC’s understanding was that it would be helping with a 12-month engagement process that would hold open discussions and forums asking where people felt a police station should be located and how it should serve residents. DeYoung was awarded a contract and LCC subcontracted with them to help organize and promote meetings.
Plans were put in place to hold five meetings in April and then, just 13 days before the first meeting, the city announced that the focus would be on considering the two locations for a rehoused police station.
Those meetings concluded on April 19. They were led by the City Operations Officer, Heather Johnston, and a DeYoung consultant. An estimated 650 people attended, but as far as can be discerned, the mayor and any official representative from the police department did not attend any of the meetings. Some Southside council members were in attendance, including Wonsley and Chavez. They were both at the meeting at Midtown Global Market. Also there was someone who identified himself as a Southside resident and a Minneapolis police officer who commented from the audience.
Each of the meetings included a large-group presentation by city representatives and a brief question period, followed by small-group conversations with consultants facilitating the discussion and paid scribes taking notes.
“I had the opportunity to attend the business owners’ session at the Hook and Ladder,” said Chavez. “It was very clear that small business owners were frustrated about our current process. My small group spoke about their experiences that brought back trauma. It was abundantly clear that a truth and reconciliation process was needed years ago before this process was set to begin.”
At LCC’s most recent board meeting on April 18, the matter was discussed for over an hour. Two resolutions on the subject were presented and debated and one was amended until it was unanimously passed by the LCC board of directors.
That resolution, which they plan to share with other neighborhood organizations in the 3rd Precinct as well as with city officials, rejects any decision being made about the 3rd Precinct building until a new community engagement process has been carried out. It calls for the development of a new timeline “for defining a shared community vision for what a new facility or facilities should be, and how the former site of the 3rd Precinct should serve the community.” The resolution “supports an intentional and respectful outreach process to allow residents and business owners of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis to more comprehensively weigh in on the location of the 3rd Precinct building specifically and public safety in general” and “demands that the outreach process be community-led and managed by neighborhood organizations and other community organizations, not the city of Minneapolis, with a focus on restorative justice.”
“This whole process has been frustrating,” said LCC board president Lisa Boyd. “I think it’s the job of neighborhood organizations, like LCC, to represent the best interests of our whole community and to advocate for their needs to the city. What was supposed to be a 12-month process got shortened to six weeks and limited to two options that the city wants. It’s like they just want us to rubberstamp what they’ve already decided. Well, we’re not going to do that. The LCC board rejects any decision made about the 3rd Precinct building until a better community engagement process is underway – one that is open, transparent, respectful to all community members and really listens to their needs.”
Apparently, not only have elected policy makers and other city leaders failed to communicate effectively with each other, but also with community members and organizations who are ready and able to help.
“During the past three years we have witnessed incredible energy, creativity and determination to create a new system of community care,” said Michele Braley, executive director of Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice. “Tragically, the proposed plans for the 3rd Precinct do nothing to incorporate new ideas and only recreate an outdated and harmful form of policing. I urge the city of Minneapolis to engage in a rigorous process of accountability for past and historical harms by the MPD and then to work with residents to create a system of care that will ensure these harms never happen again.”