On November 2, 2021, Minneapolis voters will be presented with a proposed charter amendment that claims to address policing. People have been frustrated with Minneapolis policing for a long time and have been looking for a way forward. They may be wondering if this amendment is that opportunity.
According to the language on the ballot, the amendment will “strike and replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach, and which would include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety … “
So, what’s the problem?
The amendment doesn’t tell us what public safety would actually look like if it passes. There may or may not still be a police force, for example, and it’s not clear who would decide.
Even if there are police, they would be moved under a new department that reports to a city council committee and then to the council as a whole. In other words, the police (and police accountability) would be buried under three layers of bureaucracy.
This amendment includes two flaws that call into question its practicality, if not legality.
The amendment does not specify an effective date. Under state law, that means the implementation date would be thirty days after passage. Realistically, there is just no way to create and staff a new department and figure out the way forward for public safety, all in one month.
Secondly, the power to discipline the police is eliminated from the current charter without being reassigned. With no one having the power to discipline, that leaves us with a police force even less accountable than it already is.
The proposed charter amendment would eliminate the minimum staffing requirement for police, a positive development because it would allow the City more flexibility. However, we don’t need a charter amendment to do this because the city council and mayor could do it themselves by unanimous vote on an ordinance, with the Charter Commission’s concurrence.
What would work?
For people who are harmed by violent crime, financial exploitation or other criminal conduct, a law enforcement investigation provides their gateway into the court system. Any change to our charter needs to protect their access to the justice system. That said, we recognize the need for serious changes to policing in Minneapolis.
What can the mayor and city council do right now to make that happen?
- Right-size the police. Focus policing on its core function—investigating crimes. Eliminating the minimum staffing requirement would allow them to do this.
- Redirect resources to more appropriate responders. Redirecting non-police calls to mental health practitioners, social services workers, and medical professionals ensures people get the services they need while not wasting resources.
- Rein in the cops that are left. Instituting real civilian oversight would go a long way toward increasing police accountability. Implementing an early intervention system (EIS) would also allow police leadership to address problem officers early.
City leaders can address policing issues without this charter amendment. For a list of actions the City can take, go to www.cuapb.org and click on Actions Minneapolis Leadership Can Take Now to Rein in the MPD.
Communities United Against Police Brutality is a Minnesota-based all-volunteer organization in its 21st year.