A Minneapolis commission is expected to take up a proposed amendment Wednesday that would dismantle the city’s Police Department in the wake of George Floyd’s death and replace it with a new public safety department.
A majority of the City Council backs the idea, with supporters saying it would do away with a troubled department that has resisted change, and replace it with a more “holistic” and public health-oriented approach to public safety.
If it advances to the November ballot, voters would get the final say.
The 15-member volunteer commission could approve the proposal; reject it; propose a substitute or ask for more time to review it. Rejection wouldn’t be fatal, because the City Council isn’t bound by the commission’s decision. But a delay would be, by making it impossible to get the idea onto November’s ballot.
The City Council’s proposal would eliminate the Police Department from the city charter, and replace it with a “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.” The new department would prioritize public health, with a director who has “non-law enforcement experience in community safety services.” It would still allow for armed police officers, but they would answer to the new director.
Some members of the commission have worried that the process — which has included two public hearings and online comments — is moving too quickly. The process has also unfolded during a violent summer in Minneapolis after Floyd’s death, with shootings dramatically higher than last year, and many residents have worried about a proposal to “abolish” police officers.
Some City Council members have promised a robust process to get public input on how a new department would look and work.
Council member Steve Fletcher, one of the authors of the proposal, said that even if the commission decides it needs more time, the city will continue moving ahead with the community engagement process to “build a collective vision of what we really want the future of public safety to look like.”
He said having the issue on the ballot in November would give city leaders flexibility to implement options that come out of the engagement process. If the issue is not on this November’s ballot, he said, leaders might have to wait until November 2021 to vote on structural changes.
While he conceded voters could reject the idea, which would hamper flexibility as well, he said having it on the 2020 ballot after a few months of public input would give the city a nice “check in” on how people are feeling.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he remains opposed to eliminating the department.
“We should not go down the route of simply abolishing the Police Department,” Frey said. “What we need to see within this department, and within many departments throughout the country, is a full-on culture shift.”
Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and other counts, and three other officers at the scene were charged with aiding and abetting. All four officers were fired, and Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world.
The mayor and Chief Medaria Arradondo have moved ahead with their own changes since Floyd’s death, including requiring officers to document attempts to de-escalate situations whether or not force is used. They also have expanded requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents, ordering officers to provide more detail.
Arradondo also pulled the department out of negotiations for a union contract, saying he wanted a review designed to change the grievance and arbitration process, which he said makes it hard to get rid of problem officers.
According to draft language of the amendment posted online, the new department proposed by the City Council “will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” The director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.”
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