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Proposal to replace Minneapolis PD clears another hurdle

The plan now faces a far higher chance of making it on the November ballot than it did last year

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Photo/Minneapolis Police Department

By Liz Navratil
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — A measure that would allow voters to decide whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department following George Floyd’s death won a decisive vote on the City Council Friday.

While it must still pass through multiple hurdles, the plan faces a far higher chance of making it on the November ballot than it did last year. After an 11-2 vote by the City Council on Friday, the plan now heads to the court-appointed Charter Commission which, unlike last year, can’t use its review period to prevent a question from appearing on the ballot this year.

Minneapolis has become a testing ground for proposals that would change cities’ approaches to policing and public safety in the wake of Floyd’s death, which prompted protests around the world after a video of a former officer placing his knee on Floyd’s neck went viral.

The discussions are unfolding at a tense time, when city leaders are also discussing how to proceed with a lawsuit in Floyd’s death and waiting to see how the trial will unfold for former officer Derek Chauvin, whose murder trial began with jury selection this week.

The proposal — and a failed effort to present an alternative — sparked a spirited hourlong debate during Friday morning’s council meeting.

Council members who voted to advance the proposal argued it was crucial for fulfilling a promise to transform public safety following Floyd’s death and to reduce racial disparities in policing.

“I don’t know how to say this any more succinctly than we all must be anti-racist,” Council President Andrea Jenkins said. Citing news reports that showed Minneapolis police disproportionately use force on people of color, and particularly Black residents, Jenkins said: “That, to me, says that there is a deeper problem than the policies that are governing our police department, and that is the work that we have to really continue to try to eradicate from all of our systems.”

Council Member Linea Palmisano, who tried unsuccessfully to make a change Friday morning, said she fears the proposal won’t actually fulfill the underlying goals of increasing accountability and transparency for police in the city.

“We have made some progress and we have a lot more to go,” she said, “but we should not delude ourselves into thinking this will actually accomplish these goals.”

Others pushed back, saying they felt it was crucial to act now and they didn’t feel they had enough time to review any changes proposed on Friday.

“There are a lot of things to consider with it. We’re going into a closed session today. The trial for former officer Chauvin has just started, and I do not think this is the time to close the door completely on any sort of organizational change within MPD,” Council Member Andrew Johnson said. “I think we owe it to the public to continue that discussion.”

The proposal, written by Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder, calls for the city to create a new Department of Public Safety that “provides a comprehensive approach designed to address the connection between public safety and health by integrating various public safety functions of the city.”

The proposal would change the city charter, removing the requirements to keep a minimum number of police based on the city’s population and removing the mayor’s “complete power” over officers’ operations.

The latest version, revised after feedback from the city attorney, says the new department would be led by a commissioner appointed by the city’s elected leaders. The department must include a division with police, but it could have other divisions as well.

The proposal has elicited strong reactions from a deeply divided public. Proponents have argued that past reform efforts haven’t done enough to change policing in the city, while opponents say they fear this measure could reduce accountability for police by forcing them to also report to the council.

Only council members Palmisano and Lisa Goodman voted against it sending the proposal to the Charter Commission.

Friday’s meeting marked the last chance for council members to present their own changes to the proposal.

Palmisano’s alternative would have left the police department intact and kept the mayor’s “complete power” over its operations. Like the original proposal, it would have removed the requirement to maintain a minimum number of officers based on the city’s population. Council members shot down that change by an 8-5 vote.

Council members Fletcher, Schroeder, Cunningham, Johnson, Jenkins, Jeremiah Ellison, Cam Gordon, and President Lisa Bender voted against it, while Council Members Palmisano, Goodman, Jamal Osman, Kevin Reich and Alondra Cano voted in favor of including it.

The earlier proposal now heads to the court-appointed Charter Commission, which could take until early August to review it. The commission can provide a recommendation that council members place the question on the ballot, reject it, or consider an alternate proposal. They are not bound to follow that recommendation.

(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)