On a snowy Saturday afternoon, a group composed mostly of Third Precinct residents gathered in the lobby of a church in South Minneapolis to discuss the future of public safety. As soon as the news that the city is considering relocating the Elections and Voter Services department from its headquarters in Southeast Minneapolis to the building that formerly housed the Third Precinct headquarters, the group erupted in a collective groan.
At a City Council Committee of the Whole meeting on December 5, city staff presented their ideas on reusing the building that formerly housed the Third Precinct, located at the southwest corner of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. The Third Precinct building, which was occupied by the Minneapolis Police Department beginning in 1984, remains vacant after it was abandoned in May 2020, days after George Floyd was murdered by former police officer Derek Chauvin.
In July, City Council members voted 12-1 to never locate the Third Precinct at that site ever again. In November, council members voted 8-5 to locate the Third Precinct headquarters in the Seward neighborhood, four blocks away at 26th Street and Minnehaha Avenue.
In addition to housing elections equipment and staff, city officials suggested housing animal control, an indoor farmers market, or one of three public works facilities to address traffic, water or job training. The water and training facilities were to be built on the Roof Depot site until state legislators and local activists successfully pressured the city to sell the site to the community earlier this year.
All the repurposed uses for the site, except for the election headquarters, were ruled out because of space constraints. In addition, the two parcels that comprise the Third Precinct site prioritize commercial, residential, institutional, public service, and “low-impact industrial” use.
The city recommended that the Third Precinct building be repurposed as the new election headquarters, which is currently housed in three warehouses at 980 E. Hennepin Avenue and leased through 2029.
“It would eliminate approximately $376,000 in annual lease costs,” said Finance and Property Services senior project manager Matt Hanan at the meeting. Hanan added the site has existing, convenient parking and public transportation access, and that the building still has 25 percent of the site space remaining to accommodate community use.
Lack of community engagement
Upon hearing the proposal to house the city’s elections headquarters at the former Third Precinct headquarters building, Ward 9 Councilmember Jason Chavez, who represents the area where the old precinct headquarters site was, expressed his disappointment that the community was not engaged in making the decision.
“I think that we need to do engagement—real, authentic engagement in this process. Not say, ‘What are you going to use 25 percent of the building for,’” said Chavez. “The community has not said that they want this [site] for Elections and Voter Services.”
The city plans to begin community engagement about using the remaining 25 percent of the former Third Precinct headquarters on January 24. Meanwhile, two artists and community organizers are working together to engage the community about the future of public safety, particularly concerning plans for the former Third Precinct headquarters.
Third Precinct residents Sam Gould and Duaba Unenra lead the Confluence Studio, a group of artists and organizers. Originally a nonprofit that was organized to engage community members over what should be done with a vacant parcel where the old Roberts Shoe Store building once stood at the northwest corner of Chicago and Lake, they have been supporting and training community members to facilitate conversations around public safety since May of this year.
“We’re using the Third Precinct as a bridge to talk about what [the future of public safety] could be,” said Gould as he took a break from facilitating a discussion at the December assembly. “[We want to create] platforms for people to feel they have agency to have conversations about the future of their own lives.”
Conversations about Third Precinct site
These conversations are often big-picture discussions about what makes participants feel safe. Over the summer, they hosted a barbecue. An exercise Gould facilitated at an assembly earlier this month asked participants to play with Legos to envision how their ideal Minneapolis city budget looked like.
Ideas that percolated from participants, 75 percent of whom were Third Precinct residents, included divesting from policing and investing in public housing, harm reduction, public transportation, holistic health, and a number to call should they need someone to mediate a dispute.
One of those Third Precinct residents, Lauren Evans, does not believe the city needs any form of policing. Evans, who is Black, believes the city needs to be intentional about how it addresses those who are unhoused and addicted to substances, instead of punishing them.
“I would really hope that they would really consider putting more resources into making an infrastructure that takes care of people, rather than continuously puts people in these positions where they have to be desperate, and they have to survive,” said Evans.
As for ensuring people feel safe from being victimized, “People would be knowledgeable if they need to use some defense measures. [Using] weapons like firearms is still up in the air for me,” said Evans, who added that police exist to protect property.
In addition to facilitating community discussions, they are also starting an online chat room that can only be accessed by Third Precinct residents after they are vetted by a member of the chat room community. They also plan to launch a print newspaper called “Paper Internet” to be distributed among Third Precinct residents.
The Confluence Studio rejects funding from city and state governments because they say the city has done harm to the communities they are trying to help. “They say one thing, and they do the complete other thing,” said Gould. “The way they go about it proved to be historically and cumulatively detrimental or incredibly violent or abusive towards people’s lives in large and small ways.
“They’ve disregarded us for a very, very long time.”
The Confluence Studio’s People’s Assemblies meets every second Saturday of the month at 3 p.m. at New City Church, 3104 16th Ave. S. Visit confluence-studio.org for more information.