Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to send a public safety charter amendment forward to the Charter Commission. If ultimately placed on this year’s ballot and approved by voters, the charter change would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department called Community Safety and Violence Prevention. This new department would have a public health orientation and be focused on violence prevention. It would be led not by a police chief, but by someone with public health or restorative justice experience. Within the new department there would be a division of law enforcement staffed with licensed police officers.
Another way the proposal would change the city’s system of public safety would be who has authority over the new department. Currently the Mayor is given exclusive authority over MPD. If approved by voters, the charter change would grant policy-making authority over the new department to the City Council.
Mayor Frey, who opposes the change, and the City Council held separate press conferences on Friday. Here are some of Frey’s critiques and the response from members of the City Council (mostly Jeremiah Ellison, who has articulated the issues most clearly and directly).
Mayor Frey making it about the Chief’s personal qualities.
“Is this a demotion of our police Chief Arradondo? This is a person who has embodied the ideals of compassion and integrity… a person chock full of integrity. He is now our chief. He has my support.”
Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Steve Fletcher say it’s not about individual personalities.
Ellison: “This isn’t about [Mayor Frey]. This isn’t about the chief. It’s not really about the council either. It’s about the fact that we have a system of public safety that in a lot of ways fails to keep people safe… We need to design policy that isn’t personality-based.” pic.twitter.com/6MzqY0U9HK— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 28, 2020
Steve Fletcher: “When I was running for this office, before I knew who the mayor and chief would be, it was a common talking point for me that we can’t keep leaving this to the mayor and the chief.” The charter change is about creating a job where a 1st-class leader can succeed. pic.twitter.com/gZwLbUFF9w— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 28, 2020
Frey says charter amendment would create a lack of accountability and lead to “finger-pointing contests.”
“Right now when something bad happens, or good, it is very clear who is accountable. Chief Arradondo is accountable and I am accountable. If this charter amendment were to pass through, you would have the head of public safety report to 14 different people — myself and 13 different council members. Every time something bad happens it will be a big finger-pointing contest.”
Ellison: People don’t just want someone to blame when things go utterly awry.
Frey has questions, wants clarity.
“Are we talking about getting rid of the police entirely? Or is simply lip service? What are we talking about here? Is this about reductions in staff or is this a wholesale elimination of a police response to violent crime?”
The Mayor is generating a lack of clarity for his own purposes.
Ellison: “the Council has been clear. I think that the Mayor, if I’m being frank, has decided that it’s in his best interest to generate a lack of clarity… A lot of the details of any department can be written in ordinance, and frequently are.” pic.twitter.com/Hu1bcU4OLB— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 28, 2020
Frey: “14 bosses” and the potential for different policing styles in each of 13 wards.
Ellison: City Council has legislative authority over every other city department, except police.
Ellison: “The truth is the city structure for every other department, with the exception of the current police department is: the mayor as the executive and the city council as the legislative. [The charter amendment] would give the council legislative authority.” pic.twitter.com/3LkPiF4vyN— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 28, 2020
Disagreement on government structure, consensus on long-term goals.
In 2018, Cam Gordon presented his proposal for a charter amendment that would have given the City Council legislative authority over police. He addressed some of the same “misconceptions” that Mayor Frey is raising today, including a concern about having “14 cooks in the kitchen.” Gordon’s 2018 proposal, which would not have replaced MPD with a different department, ultimately died at the Charter Commission.
An example from two years ago of how we’re rehashing a lot of the same issues: Cam Gordon debunking “common misconceptions” about his 2018 charter amendment to give the city council policymaking authority over police. pic.twitter.com/rPNgRaJf4u— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 29, 2020
So we’re hearing a lot of arguments about government structure and chain of command, some of which we’ve heard before. The Mayor believes it’s important that he and the chief have clear authority over police. Members of the City Council believe they owe it to their constituents to exercise actual legislative control over any current or future department responsible for public safety.
We haven’t heard as much disagreement about the long-term goals: a move towards non-punitive public safety with an expanded public health and restorative justice approach. There’s a history of agreement here. The Minneapolis 2040 plan (a wide-ranging document that many probably think is exclusively about zoning), adopted unanimously by the City Council and supported by Mayor Frey, has a public safety section that gets at a lot of what the charter amendment would make possible.
I’ve heard from people fielding calls from concerned moms who’ve been exposed to sloppy news reports about a supposed sudden and total lack of police in Minneapolis. That hasn’t happened. Dismantling MPD is not necessarily the same thing as the abolition of police. As Jeremiah Ellison explains with a bottle analogy, what Minneapolis is actually doing is greatly expanding how we conceive of and fund public safety.
Ellison’s bottle analogy: “If you imagine the police department is a bottle, if it’s only labeled ‘police,’ only police can go in it. If we label it ‘public safety’ then sure police can occupy that space, but a lot of other things can go into it.” pic.twitter.com/DMJihztX3p— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) June 28, 2020