Minneapolis Charter Commission criticizes city council as it requests more time on plan to dismantle police

[anvplayer video=”4950925″ station=”998122″]

A Minneapolis commission decided Wednesday to take more time to review a City Council amendment to dismantle the Police Department in the wake of George Floyd’s death, ending the possibility of voters deciding the issue in November.

The Charter Commission had expressed concern that the process to change the city’s charter was being rushed after Floyd died following an encounter with a Minneapolis police officer. Some commissioners said they were more concerned with making the right changes, rather than making them fast.

The proposed amendment followed widespread criticism of law enforcement over Floyd’s death. It would replace the Police Department with a "Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention" that backers said would take a more "holistic" approach. That approach wasn’t fully defined.

The proposal would have allowed for some armed police officers. It called for a division of licensed peace officers who would have answered to the new department’s director.

“The City Council’s charter proposal represents the most sweeping and radical charter change in living memory,” said Commissioner Gregory Abbott. “It deserves much more scrutiny discussion we can give it in a mere 35 days. Quick action on a flawed charter amendment will not produce immediate benefits and could have long term unintended consequences.”

“Our role is to make recommendations to the city council about their proposal,” said Al Giraud-Issaacson. “This should be going to the ballot in November.”

The Commission voted 10 to 5 to take the additional time to review the amendment.

“We cannot and should not wait for change,” said Commissioner Toni Newborn. “I do want to see change happen swiftly. I live in a world in which, I live in Ward 6, I hear gunshots on my block and when I do my first inclination is to call the police. But I worry, if I call them that my husband, who is African American, Black, if he goes out to meet them he will be harassed, harmed or shot by Minneapolis Police Officer.”

She shared concerns, however, about the level of public input and engagement. Newborn added that she disagrees with the concept that the Council could have a larger role in overseeing the police department.

“What I’m most concerned about is if this proposal makes it onto the ballot, will our residents understand the full proposal and what will mean as far as the future of policing and how this new department and new structure will fit into our current city structure?,” said Newborn. “My primary concern about this proposal is the reporting structure […] I believe that the role of our city council members is to legislate and not be in the position of managing and service as administrators.”

The issue would likely have gone to voters if the commission had acted decisively either for or against the amendment. That’s because the City Council was required only to consult the commission and was not bound by their action. But the lack of a final decision means the proposal is stuck in limbo without enough time to make the November ballot.

Giraud-Issaacson and Jan Sandberg both voted against the 90 day review period.

“I don’t think anybody here supports this amendment,” said Jan Sandberg, Vice Chair of the Commission. “I certainly do not, I think it’s ill planned, ill-conceived, no public engagement.”

She accused the City Council of “political manipulation.”

“I can’t find any justification for asking for more time […] I don’t believe we need to create the structure for the City Council, I think we need to provide information that is useful for the voters," said Sandberg.

Several Commission members were critical of the City Council and expressed concern that there wasn’t adequate time, or opportunity for, enough public input.

“Is it fully baked? No it is not. This amendment was written on a Wednesday and passed on a Friday,” said Chair Barry Clegg “The council had to suspend its own rules to bypass committee referrals and public hearings […] Charter change should be discussed for months not hours. We need more time to gather this input, we need to complete the 911 study currently underway, we need to conduct the staffing and efficiency study, we need to see the results and recommendations of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation of the department, how can we proceed without that? We need to look at best practices from other jurisdictions in Minnesota.”

A similar move by the commission in 2018 effectively ended a proposed charter change that year that would have given the City Council more control over the department.

The process has unfolded during a violent summer in Minneapolis after Floyd’s death, with shootings dramatically higher than last year, and many residents have worried about a proposal to "abolish" police officers.

Charter commission to vote on amendment to replace Minneapolis Police Department

Some City Council members promised a robust process to get public input on how a new department would look and work.

Council member Steve Fletcher, one of the authors of the proposal, said that even if the commission decides it needs more time, the city will continue moving ahead with the community engagement process to “build a collective vision of what we really want the future of public safety to look like.”

If the issue is not on this November’s ballot, leaders might have to wait until November 2021 to vote on structural changes, Fletcher said.

He conceded that voters could reject the idea, which would hamper flexibility.

“I think this amendment was really well put together,” said Council Member Jeremiah Ellison. “The details of any department are typically laid out in ordinance, not in charter and so I think we did our due diligence.”

He believes the Charter Commission was given enough time to make a decision.

“This makes it so we’re going to be moving a little bit slower and I don’t like the idea of us moving slower when it comes to public safety,” he said. “While the steep transformational change can’t occur without this charter change, there are things we can do.”

He pointed to the upcoming city budget process and pledged more public input opportunities.

The amendment was authored by Council Members Ellison, Fletcher, Cano, Gordon and Bender. In a statement they called the City Charter “a barrier to significant change”, pledging to get an amendment on the ballot in 2021.

“Voters deserve the right to make their voice heard on the future of our public safety system,” said Council Member Alondra Cano, in a statement. “The opportunity to vote symbolizes the most democratic way to build a transformative new model of community safety, and the Charter Commission should share this invitation to co-create and re-imagine what is possible. Our residents and constituents feel the urgency of this moment and we hope the Charter Commission members also acknowledge the immediate need of this national moment.”

“The Charter Commission’s decision will not stop our work to make sure every single member of our community is safe,” said Council President Lisa Bender, in the same statement. “We will continue to invest in violence prevention and to reimagine public safety with our residents.”

The statement also said the amendment was just one piece of a year-long engagement process.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he remains opposed to eliminating the department.

“We should not go down the route of simply abolishing the Police Department,” Frey said. “What we need to see within this department, and within many departments throughout the country, is a full-on culture shift.”

Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and other counts, and three other officers at the scene were charged with aiding and abetting. All four officers were fired, and Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world.

Minneapolis City Council approves initial cuts to police department

The mayor and Chief Medaria Arradondo have moved ahead with their own changes since Floyd’s death, including requiring officers to document attempts to de-escalate situations whether or not force is used. They also have expanded requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents, ordering officers to provide more detail.

Arradondo also pulled the department out of negotiations for a union contract, saying he wanted a review designed to change the grievance and arbitration process, which he said makes it hard to get rid of problem officers.

According to draft language of the amendment posted online, the new department proposed by the City Council “will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” The director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.”

Frey issued the following statement to KSTP regarding the action Wednesday night:

"I look forward to working with Chief Arradondo, my council colleagues, and community to transform the culture of policing in our city in the months ahead. Now it is on all of us to roll up our sleeves and dig into this work together."

[anvplayer video=”4950850″ station=”998122″]