Minneapolis voters reject plan to replace police department
Voters opposed the amendment by a 13% margin
By Liz Navratil, Briana Bierschbach and Ryan Faircloth
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, crushing the hopes of supporters that outrage over the killing of George Floyd would translate into one of the nation's most far-reaching experiments in transforming public safety.
The final votes came at the end of a contentious election cycle that drew intense scrutiny as people across the country waited to see how far the city would go to reinvent policing, 18 months after Floyd was filmed pleading for breath under an officer's knee. Since then, a city already battered by a global pandemic was the site of the worst urban riots in three decades, a surge in violent crime and a wrenching trial that resulted in murder convictions for the officer who killed Floyd.
In the final days leading up to a historic election, voters were blanketed with messages from political committees that had millions to spend as they attempted to sway people to vote for or against a measure seeking to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency focused on alternative approaches to responding to crises.
While supporters insisted police would still be part of the department, opponents of the charter change hammered on themes that echoed in voters' reasons for saying no on Question 2: who's going to answer 911 calls? What's the plan for keeping the city safe?
Voters opposed the amendment by a 13% margin, with all but eight precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race at about 9 p.m., an hour after polls closed.
Wynn Wever, who voted at Holy Trinity, said it was the only part of the ballot he filled out. He voted no.
"I like the police. We need the police," said Wever, 79, a retired roofer and resident of Trinity Apartments next door.
At Roosevelt High School, Kevin Nelson said Question 2 was the most important issue to him. Nelson, a self-employed woodworker, said calls to "defund the police" sounded like a good idea in the volatile times after George Floyd's murder.
But as time went by and details were few, he turned against the idea.
"You're voting for whatever they want to do," he said. "It's kind of like giving them a free pass."
Still, there was hardly a consensus.
In the East Phillips neighborhood, residents Dave Moore and Linnea Hadaway were strongly in favor of Question 2.
"The police have to be held more accountable than they are," Moore said. "It's got to change and the people have to change it."
"They've been talking about police reform for 25 years and absolutely nothing has changed," Hadaway said. "And that's why I'm willing to take the risk."
The proposal before voters would have amended the city's charter, removing the requirement to maintain a Police Department with a minimum number of officers based on population. Instead, it would have created a Department of Public Safety that takes "a comprehensive public health approach to safety." Details of the new department, including police staffing levels, if any, would have been determined by the mayor and City Council members.
Candidates running in the first municipal elections since Floyd's death largely agreed that Minneapolis should boost mental health programs, increase social services and seek to determine which nonviolent calls could be handled by civilians. But they disagreed on one fundamental question: Whether the city should replace its Police Department with a new agency in its efforts to take a broader approach to public safety.
Supporters argued the proposal would have given the city the flexibility to create a new safety system that can better respond to residents' concerns, without being constrained by the police staffing levels added to the city's charter during another contentious election in the early 1960s.
The idea of having a blank slate was appealing to some voters.
"I think Minneapolis might be a really good place to do a trial run on this," said Kingfield resident Riley Curran, explaining why he voted "yes" on Question 2. "If any city is going to stick its toe in first and figure it out, I trust Minneapolis to do it."
Opponents argued there wasn't enough detail to ensure the new department would deliver the change residents desperately needed.
"I think we need to do some changes, maybe make some reforms, but I do not believe in abolishing it without having something in place, and they've had a year to come up with something other than nebulous, 'Oh, we're doing to do this or that.' I haven't been swayed, said one voter, Linda Ramson.
Ramson's remarks were similar to ones delivered just days before by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, whose 11th-hour news conference in full uniform prompted the council president to file an ethics complaint accusing him of misusing city resources.
"This is too critical of a time to wish and hope for that help that we need so desperately right now," Arradondo said. "Again, I was not expecting some sort of robust, detailed, word-for-word plan. But at this point, quite frankly, I would take a drawing on a napkin, and I have not seen either."
At the same time residents were deciding the future of the city's Police Department they were also voting on who should have control of it. The proposal, written by a political committee called Yes 4 Minneapolis, would have also granted the Minneapolis City Council more oversight of officers. A separate question, which also stood on the cusp of passing, would rein in their ability to give direction to city staff.
The city's elected leaders — and some staffers — were deeply divided on the question of how to change policing.
Nearly two weeks after Floyd's death, while the memories of nights of unrest were still fresh in residents' minds, elected officials began cementing their stances.
Protesters shouted "shame, shame," at Mayor Jacob Frey after he told them he did "not support the full abolition of the police department" but instead favored systemic changes. He's been squarely aligned with Arradondo.
The day after that protest, nine City Council members gathered in Powderhorn Park and pledged to "begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department," eliciting strong support from the activists who organized the event and setting off a panic in other community groups who deeply opposed the idea.
Council members tried to get a similar charter question on last year's ballot but were blocked by the court-appointed Minneapolis Charter Commission. Supporters quickly accused the commissioners of obstructing the democratic process, while opponents claimed they were doing the due diligence that council members had failed to provide.
Nearly a year and a half after their pledge, many of those council members have softened their rhetoric, seeking to reassure residents that state law makes it difficult to remove police, because it says only officers can respond to some types of calls. Many of them supported the campaign to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, as well as candidates who back the effort.
Tuesday's election gave residents the chance to make the decision about how to proceed, but groups organizing on both sides say it shouldn't mark an end to the discussions about how to overhaul policing following Floyd's killing. In the final days of the election, opponents called for increased reform efforts. Supporters focused on how their movement had changed the conversation.
Inside the Gold Room downtown, a small group of less than two dozen Yes 4 Minneapolis supporters gathered. They stared at their phones as the final results trickled in, dashing their hopes that the proposal would pass the final hurdles.
Just the day before, JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that wrote the proposal, had said, "This vote most certainly ... is huge in that no matter what happens, the city of Minneapolis is going to have to move forward and really wrestle with what we now cannot un-know."
(Staff writers Patrick Condon, John Reinan, James Walsh, David Joles, Matt Gillmer, Mark Vancleave, and Anthony Souffle contributed to this report.)