City councilmembers propose Department of Public Safety

MGN

Last week Minneapolis City Councilmembers Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder introduced the Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment that would create a department of public safety and allow Minneapolis voters to decide the kind of policing it wants.

The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment would establish a Department of Public Safety, with a structure much like the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Councilmembers propose to have the measure ready to be placed on the ballot in Minneapolis in November.

“Minneapolis residents have a unified vision for a broader public safety system that keeps everyone in our communities safe and treats us all with dignity,” Schroeder said. “This change would not only expand our public safety toolbox but would also improve oversight and accountability—both of which are critical building blocks of a Minneapolis that is safe and equitable for all.”

 “People have been calling for meaningful structural change,” Fletcher said on Friday. “Looking at the racially unjust outcomes, looking at the violence, looking at the things that we see that really need change, we think that really requires is structural change.”

He feels the new Department of Public Safety will improve oversight and accountability.

“Having the council have legislative authority with our approach to public safety feels like a way to bring some of these decisions into daylight so we have to publicly debate them,” Fletcher said.

According to the proposal, the new city 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.”

Under the amendment, the mayor would nominate and then the City Council would appoint a commissioner for the department.

“An awful lot of the situations that we’re responding to right now related to petty misdemeanors, related to addiction, related to mental health, related to homelessness, are probably things we could respond much better to with other resources and we want to create space to make those adaptations,” Fletcher said.

The Department of Public Safety will also be responsible for integrating various public safety functions of the city of Minneapolis, according to the proposed amendment.

“Throughout 2020, we heard from residents from all walks of life about what they want to see from a system of public safety,” Cunningham said. “The changes in this proposal reflect that we listened to that feedback.”

After a public hearing, the proposal may then be forwarded to the Minneapolis Charter Commission for its review as required by law.

The amendment reflects wide-ranging feedback from community members over the past year, citywide, said councilmembers.

“Mayor Frey has heard community calling for safety services that go beyond policing. But he has not heard residents say we need to dilute accountability by the head of public safety to report to 14 elected officials with divergent opinions,” wrote the mayor’s office in response to the proposal.

The organization Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) is also critical of the proposal.

CUAPB noted in a letter to the City Council that its primary concern was police discipline and accountability. They contend that the proposal does not address “actual changes in police conduct and culture.”

Councilmember Lisa Goodman voted against the amendment, saying in a statement that the plan “is reckless and will create more harm than good.”

“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.”