Minneapolis City Council Speaks to Possibilities for Police Reform

At a Tuesday meeting to announce their unanimous support of a state investigation into potential civil rights violations by the city’s police, the Minneapolis City Council talked about their vision for public safety and police reform.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison explained why he believes it’s time for drastic, not incremental, change: “our current system of policing does not work. It’s been a disaster. Not only the murder of George Floyd, but the response to protests of the murder of George Floyd have been a disaster.” Ellison said the Minneapolis Police Department has been “out of control” and “in open revolt against the people of Minneapolis” for decades. It’s time to get the situation under control.

One obstacle to accountability, according to Ellison: arbitration forces the city to rehire 50% of officers fired by the chief. He asks, do we think this chief or any chief is getting it wrong 50% of the time?

City Council President Lisa Bender was asked about what it meant to defund the police. She said the upcoming budget process (initiated in response to the pandemic and resulting financial crisis) is looking to cut $165 million across the city enterprise in second half of 2020. She noted there’s increasing public support for a radical approach to public safety, restructuring the department, and shifting responsibility away from MPD.

Council Member Linea Palmisano wants to postpone action. She said the policing issue “should be a 2021 budget conversation.” The task before the council was meant to be about cutting $165 million dollars from the budget in response to covid-19 (which she noted would be the equivalent to a 24% cut to the city’s budget). She said the budget amendment process was not meant to be about a shift in policy.

Council Member Cam Gordon talked about some of the obstacles to reform. There are state laws that limit civilian oversight over police and limit the city’s ability to implement a residency requirement. He suggested “we have a great opportunity, especially now that the state is involved in investigating, to also look at those state laws…”

Council Member Phillipe Cunningham talked about shifting resources to a public health approach, for which he’s long been an advocate. He sees violence as a disease that spreads. It’s something to be treated, prevented, and quarantined. The problem, he says, is that we tend to skip the treatment and go right to quarantine.

Council Member Steve Fletcher, in a series of tweets, explained how MPD has long held the city and its leaders hostage with the threat of work slowdowns. But with George Floyd’s murder by police and the “violence and destruction” of the last week, “they can’t threaten this anymore.”