Who should control Minneapolis cops?

Mayor, council members divided over proposal to share MPD oversight

Chris Juhn/MSR News

In the weeks following the police-involved shooting of Thurman “Junior” Blevins, his family and community members have held protests and voiced their opinions at Minneapolis City Council meetings calling for more accountability and transparency in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

Blevins, 31, was shot and killed by Minneapolis police officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt on June 23 after a 911 call claiming he was firing a gun in the air and at the ground.

In response to the family’s pleas, City Council Member Cam Gordon suggested an amendment to the Minneapolis City Charter during a Committee of the Whole meeting on June 27. On July 20, the city council voted to move the amendment forward.

The current charter requires that the MPD report directly to the mayor. This has given the mayor the power to “make all rules and regulations and may promulgate and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department.” The MPD and the Civil Rights Department are the only two City departments that report under this structure.

The proposed amendment would effectively split authority over policing policy decisions between the city council and the mayor. While the specifics of what the power-sharing would look like have yet to be discussed in-depth, it would include the council and the mayor jointly voting on any policing policy decisions made.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he has found no other major metropolitan police department structured the way the proposed amendment suggests. Council President Lisa Bender said in a recent Ward 10 bulletin that cities such as Detroit and Oakland “have police commissions that oversee their police departments.”

A council divided

Prior to the July 20 vote, city council members expressed varying positions on the amendment. Council members Jeremiah Ellison, Andrew Johnson, Bender and Gordan expressed support. Members Andrea Jenkins, Lisa Palmisano, Alondra Cano, Kevin Reich, Abdi Warsame and Lisa Goodman were against it.

Ward 13 Council Member Palmisano spoke against the amendment at a July 16 meeting with city and community leaders regarding the suggested change. She said that after having dialogues in three identified neighborhoods “and beyond,” she has never heard a community solution like this.

Despite the apparent divide and over an hour of discussion, the proposal easily passed in a 10-2 vote. Palmisano and Goodman both voted no; Jenkins was not present to vote.

According to the Star Tribune, Cano said if the amendment ultimately passes she would resign from her position as chair of the Public Safety & Emergency Management (PSEM) committee. However, she voted yes after a motion she introduced to include the committee in upcoming discussions passed.

With the motion, the community will now be able to weigh in on the amendment at a public joint meeting with PSEM and Intergovernmental Relations committees on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

For the amendment to be on the ballot for voters in November, the council would need to pass a final version by Aug. 24. If passed, Frey could veto; but the council could override his veto with nine votes.

Sydnee Brown address the media Keith Schubert/MSR News

Something needs to change

Sydnee Brown, Blevins’ second cousin and spokesperson for the Justice for June Committee, told the MSR that the committee was in favor of the amendment. She said in situations like her cousin’s with the police “wrongfully and unjustly” taking a life or arresting someone, the amendment would give “the council an opportunity to speak for the people of color and have a say when working with Mayor Frey.”

The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar released a statement supporting the resolution. “That is too much power for one man to have,” the coalition said about the current structure. But, it noted problems with the city council having control because “like the mayor, council members are also beholden to the political interests of their donors.”

“We call for direct community control of the police,” said the coalition. “The mechanism for this would be an elected, all-civilian, Minneapolis Police Accountability Council.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, civil rights attorney and activist, told the MSR that she does not support the amendment. “It would be detrimental to Minneapolis residents for 14 elected officials to have control over the police department,” she said.

“If we are unhappy with the leadership of the mayor on policing and other issues, residents have the power not to re-elect him.” However, Levy-Pounds agreed that the current system is not working. She said that, along with more discipline of officers, “One way to ensure greater accountability is to increase the power of the Civilian Review Board.”

Giving 14 elected officials – 13 council members and the mayor – control over the MPD has been the basis for Frey’s cornerstone argument of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” He said the amendment would “dilute accountability” by spreading power across the city council.

Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo also released a joint statement after the July 20 vote expressing their dissent. “Let us be clear: passing this amendment will make both of our jobs more difficult to effectively perform,” they said.

They added that opposition from selected business and faith leaders from the community during the July 16 meeting is indicative of strong resistance by the community-at-large.

Arradondo said the amendment would harm the “direct, clear and expedient” line of communication that currently exists between him and Frey. He added that he currently has 400,000 bosses, or cooks in the kitchen, aside from Frey: “Those are the residents of Minneapolis.”

Frey argued that under the proposed amendment it could take months to enact policies like the recent one he and Arradondo made “quickly,” after the ketamine scandal, which requires police officers not to interfere with emergency medical services personnel decisions when responding to calls.

“Policing and public safety are the most difficult things I deal with,” said Frey. “While [the amendment] would take some pressure off my plate, I don’t think it’s the right direction to go in.”

Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar said in a statement, “we do not ‘commend the mayor and the chief for taking action’ in the Ketamine scandal. They are the ones who let the scandal happen in the first place.”

 

A special meeting for public comment on the Charter amendment is scheduled Aug. 1 at 2:30 pm at City Hall. For more information about how amending the Charter works, visit http:bit.ly/mplscharter.