City Council advances proposal to replace Minneapolis PD

Under the proposal, the city would create a new Department of Public Safety

By Liz Navratil
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — A proposal that asks voters to replace the Minneapolis Police Department following George Floyd's death will head to the City Council for consideration next week.

A City Council committee voted 5-1 Thursday to advance the proposal, following a discussion about whether it would fulfill promises to increase accountability for police and gather community input as they seek to build a new safety system.

Council Member Linea Palmisano, the lone dissenter on the council's Public Health & Safety Committee, said she feared the latest proposal was too similar to ones that had failed in the past and would only further blur lines of accountability for police.

"Unfortunately, this takes a lot of energy away from all the things we could be working on right now with the community," Palmisano said. "It feels a bit like a false narrative in what we're selling about what this is and what this isn't."

Her remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who wrote the latest proposal, along with Council Members Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder.

"There is no false narrative here," Cunningham said, adding that city leaders have made efforts in the past year to expand funding for violence prevention and mental health programs.

The proposal — the second written by council members in the wake of Floyd's death — would require approval from voters in the November election.

The latest version, revised after a review by the city attorney's office, calls for the city to eliminate its police department and create a new Department of Public Safety.

That department would include a law enforcement services division with police, though Minneapolis would no longer be required to employ a minimum number based on the city's population.

It could also include additional divisions, though they are not specified in the charter amendment. Fletcher said they would need to pass additional ordinances to flesh out those details and would expect to talk to residents to get their input about what that could look like.

"I would predict that this department on day one is going to look an awful lot like a police department and the Office of Violence Prevention, both as they currently exist, but reporting to the new commissioner," Fletcher said, adding that they could bring in additional divisions in the future.

As they drafted the policy, Fletcher said they wanted to both respond to demands to urgently enact changes and leave flexibility for people to provide their input.

The department would be led by a commissioner, who would oversee the chief of the law enforcement services division. Critics have said they worry that provision will blur accountability for the police by making them report to more elected officials. The mayor currently has "complete power" over police operations. Others say they believe it could improve accountability by giving council members more sway over departmental policies.

"That's a real question," Palmisano said. "Are we talking about accountability of officers, or the accountability of elected officials here?"

Council Member Cam Gordon said he worries the current structure doesn't provide enough transparency about crucial police policies, or opportunities for residents to weigh in on them.

"Every day I go around and people are saying, 'Why can't you manage this department?'" Gordon said. "... I would welcome the day when council members could say, 'Yes, I carefully reviewed the use of force policy.'"

Palmisano said she agreed with his concerns but feared "this is about adding bureaucracy."

Council Members Gordon, Fletcher, Cunningham, Alondra Cano and Jeremiah Ellison voted in favor of sending it to the full council March 12, while Palmisano voted against it.

If the measure passes the full council, it will head to the court-appointed Charter Commission, which is tasked with reviewing changes to the city's constitution. It would then head to the mayor and council for final approval before it could appear on the ballot.

Unlike last year, the commission cannot use its powers of delay to prevent this question from appearing on the ballot.

(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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