Tommy Wiita & Callan Gray
Updated: January 29, 2021 07:04 PM
Created: January 28, 2021 04:32 PM
At Friday's Minneapolis City Council meeting, Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder introduced language for the Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment that would allow Minneapolis voters to decide what the most appropriate structure is going forward for the city's safety system.
The three council members tweeted out their plans earlier this month.
"Allowing Minneapolis residents to vote on a charter amendment this year would honor our democratic process and give policymakers a clear direction to move forward," Schroeder said in a statement posted on Twitter, on Jan. 14. "We have heard loud and clear from community members that they want to weigh in on the future of public safety in Minneapolis. There is no more direct or transparent way for the people of our city to participate than in an election."
The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment would establish a new Department of Public Safety, in what would mirror the structure of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Council members hope it will be on the ballot in November.
“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.
In addition, the amendment would remove the Minneapolis Police Department as a charter department, and establish in its place a Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Public Safety made up of sworn peace officers responsible for the core functions of law enforcement.
The Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety would appoint the chief of the Law Enforcement Division, which would be confirmed by the mayor and city council.
“We want to maintain a sufficient force to respond to violence, to intervene in situations that might require the use of force, an arrest,” Fletcher said. “But 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 wouldn’t specify how many officers would be included in the new division. He said he envisions a smaller force.
“I think if we're going to reduce the number officers, we also have to reduce what we ask them to do,” he 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.
"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."
The amendment reflects wide-ranging feedback from community members over the past year, citywide, said council members. In addition to creating a more accountable and expansive public safety system, the proposal clarifies that the city will retain traditional law enforcement. It also includes the flexibility to combine other city public safety functions under one department head for improved coordination and outcomes.
"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 council will also work on an ordinance to clarify other areas within the amendment, such as the function, structure, leadership, operation and other details of the new Department of Public Safety. The development of the ordinance will be led by city staff and co-created through a community engagement process.
"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."
Friday's action supports the resolution unanimously passed by the council and signed by Mayor Jacob Frey in June that committed the city to transform the public safety system to ensure it keeps every Minneapolis resident safe.
Frey's office released the following statement Thursday night:
"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 report to 14 elected officials with divergent opinions."
The organization Communities United Against Police Brutality is also critical of the proposal.
“It’s not a good idea to bury the police department three layers deep underneath another department,” said Dave Bicking, a CUAPB board member. “This is not a good way for police accountability, it lowers the amount of police accountability. The City Council is clearly wanting to get more power.”
CUAPB sent a letter to Minneapolis City Council members on Thursday, opposing the amendment. It questions who will deal with police discipline, what qualifications will be required of the chief of the law enforcement division, and whether civilians employed by MPD would fall under the Division of Law Enforcement Services or the broader Department of Public Safety.
“The language still is deficient in some important areas and the concept, even more important, the concept is wrong,” Bicking said. “Instead of working on actual changes in police conduct and culture, they have been working on these distractions that don't do anything concrete. We need some changes now.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman voted against the amendment, saying in a statement, “The ongoing effort to reduce the number of police officers and put the city council in charge reminds me of the ongoing attempt by politicians in Washington to eliminate the ACA, Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic, abolish the current system with no reformed, transformed or improved system in place. Apparently without a plan or the year of public feedback promised, and amid ongoing violent crime some are asking Minneapolis voters to ‘trust us we will have a plan at some point.’ I don’t think that makes sense and creates more fear and uncertainty. Therefore, I am voting no on the introduction today. We do need to reform and transform our police department, but moving forward in this way, without public input or a plan in place, is reckless and will create more harm than good.”
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