Public safety takes center stage for Minneapolis mayoral candidates

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A stray bullet went through a home and grazed a Minneapolis boy while he was sleeping Sunday morning near 24th Street and Portland Avenue. The child is expected to be OK. It was part of a violent weekend.

On Saturday, Minneapolis marked its 70th homicide due to a shooting near East Lake Street and 26th Avenue South. At least seven of those killed this year have been younger than 18 years old.

“A lot of it is retaliations,” said Lisa Clemons, who does outreach work as a director of A Mother’s Love Initative. “These retaliations go back for years.”

As she speaks to people on the street, she said she’s heard confusion about the upcoming public safety charter amendment, which would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety.

“There is no conversation in the City of Minneapolis but the amendment,” she said. “Public safety is the number one conversation.”

The city’s violence has become a focus with less than two months until voters head to the polls. Election Day is Nov. 2.

Incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey mapped out his plan for public safety at Shiloh Temple International Ministries on Monday afternoon. He was joined by Clemons, Bishop Richard Howell and other community leaders for a roundtable.

“This work is going to be hard,” Frey said. “I think now more than ever we all need to be clear what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

He outlined a four-step plan, which includes investing in community safety by bringing those initiatives into a “department responsible for public safety work,” hiring more community-oriented officers and expanding alternatives to policing.

“We all agree, not every response requires an officer with a gun to respond,” Frey said. “We can have a unique skillset responding to the unique experiencing on the ground.”

Frey opposes the charter amendment, which would give the Minneapolis City Council oversight of the proposed Department of Public Safety.

“I believe when everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge,” Frey said.

The amendment was proposed following the murder of George Floyd. Frey’s tenure has also been marked by riots and the highest number of homicides in nearly 30 years.

According to a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension report, there were 185 criminal homicides in 2020, which is two more than the state’s previous record from 1995. This year is on pace to surpass that number, according to data from the city’s dashboard.

Last week, a group of Minneapolis residents called on Gov. Tim Walz to deploy the Minnesota National Guard or State Patrol to help curb the continued violence.

“Has the last two years been hard? That would be a massive understatement,” Frey said. “My position has remained consistent throughout, which is the minimum number of officers that we have right now, fewer officers on a per capita basis than just about any major city in the country – it doesn’t work, it’s not acceptable. The Chief and I have had to make some very painful decisions to divert divisions even from within MPD to just doing basic 911 response. Those are moves we didn’t want to have to make because it becomes a one dimensional police department but it’s decisions we’ve had to make nonetheless.”

Activist Angela Williams demanded action at Monday’s event.

“This is nothing without some proven results and that’s what I’m looking for,” Williams said. “Right before the election, you get all of this stuff in the mail about why you should vote for him but I don’t see change in my community.”

She described still hearing gunshots and criticized Frey for the lack of arrests connected to the deadly shootings of children in the city. Williams wants to see more investments in technology that could help with investigations, along with more community involvement.

“Public safety ranks No. 1 because I want to let my granddaughter out front to jump rope, or to hopscotch or whatever. I want to go sit on my front porch but I can’t,” she said. ‘”I’m not voting for nobody until they get this community under wraps.”

The mayor is up against a crowded field of candidates. There are 17 people running for Minneapolis mayor. Public safety has been a primary point of debate at several forums this month.

“Public safety is the No. 1 issue we’re facing in this city,” Mark Globus said at a League of Women Voters debate. “We need to bring our police department back up to full force to address the issues in this city. I think we need a unique approach to go towards mental health issues.”

Globus, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, is campaigning on a platform that includes deploying social workers and “lightly armed peace officers” to the streets, implementing a residency requirement, and routine ridealongs as mayor.

Candidate A.J. Awed also participated in that September debate.

“My focus and my approach on this issue is really building trust and making sure there is validation from communities of color in whatever model moving forward,” Awed said.

He called public safety “the most important question of this election cycle.”

Awed is promoting a platform that includes forming a citizens assembly to recommend a new model for policing in the city. He is also critical of the current administration, writing “change cannot begin until we hold city leadership to account for their failures […] and inability to properly handle a serious public safety crisis.”

Republican challenger Laverne Turner is running on a platform that includes preserving the Minneapolis Police Department, offering pay raises to officers and increasing beat officers downtown.

In a Racial Justice Network mayoral forum, former DFL state representative and candidate Kate Knuth pushed for a “holistic public safety plan.” She said it will focus on investing in young members of the community, specifically targeting mentorship and employment services toward men 10 to 26 years old.

Knuth also supports creating a Department of Public Safety, which she envisions would expand the Office of Violence Prevention.

Candidate Sheila Nezhad also supports the charter amendment.

At a DFL Lawyers Committee debate earlier this month, she said, “Public safety is my area of expertise and, as mayor, I am going to invest the most in safety and that starts with our youth. I fully support Question 2, in fact, I helped write it.”

In addition, Nezhad’s platform calls for decriminalizing drug use and sex work, and providing resources including hot food and bathrooms to protesters.

Below are links to each candidate’s campaign page:

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