Politics

The future of Minneapolis policing is on the ballot. Here’s what you need to know.

Nearly a year and a half after the most populous city in Minnesota became the focal point of a nationwide rallying cry against police brutality, Minneapolis residents will vote on the future of policing for their community.

The referendum, better known as “Question 2” on Tuesday’s ballot, asks Minneapolis voters to amend the city’s charter by replacing the existing police with a public safety department that would prioritize a “comprehensive public health approach.” 

Question 2: “Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”

If passed, the department would shift from its current model to prioritizing the expertise of public safety professionals, including social workers, mental health specialists, and experts in de-escalation to respond to incidents. In violent situations, armed police officers would still be called to respond. 

Instead of a chief of police, there would be a commissioner who would report to the city council’s office in addition to the mayor, who currently has sole oversight of the department. Police officers could remain employed by the new public safety department since they are licensed peace officers and are required to perform duties under state law, but there would no longer be a minimum staffing requirement for the number of officers.

A recent local news poll found that 53% of voters had unfavorable views of the city’s police department but the voters remained torn on replacing the police. The poll said 49% support replacing the department, while 41% were against the measure. Another 10% were undecided. Among Black voters, 75% were not in favor of a reduction in the size of the force.

“Everybody in Minneapolis is unified overwhelmingly behind the fact that our system of policing and public safety doesn’t work, and that especially does not work for people of color in our city,” Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of All of Mpls, told CBS News.

In 2020, protesters across the country were enraged by the video of George Floyd’s death and fueled by decades of injustice. In the days after, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told members of the community who had taken to the streets that he was not in favor of abolishing the police department but instead wanted to work toward reform.

A day after hundreds of protestors came to Frey’s home and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” for his refusal to dismantle the department, nine of the 13 Minneapolis City Council members announced a commitment to defunding and dismantling the police department, with the goal of replacing it with a new system of community protection.

The mayor’s race is also on Tuesday’s ballot. Frey has come out against the referendum. His challengers are campaigning on both sides of the referendum. 

Fatehi and All of Mpls are urging voters against the measure replacing the current police department, saying that the proposed charter amendment is “neither necessary nor sufficient” in solving the problem, especially since the charter does not provide a plan beyond 30 days after the election. 

“Expanding our public safety to include interventions that go beyond policing does not require a charter change. And what I mean by it’s not sufficient, is that there’s nothing in this amendment that would change the way police officers are recruited, the way they are trained, the way they are monitored, disciplined, held accountable,” Fatehi said. “It doesn’t create any of those changes that we know are critical to reforming the police.”

Supporters of the plan say that the 30 days will be a period of transition where the mayor would appoint an interim Department of Public Safety Commissioner, who would work with the city council and the community, will work together to combine the police force with public health professionals and other experts.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a press conference on Wednesday that although he tries to keep politics out of the precinct, he is against the measure, according to CBS Minnesota

“It will not eliminate tragic incidents between police and community from ever occurring in our city, it will not reduce the disproportionate violent crime, disparities involving African American victims that has been a public health crisis in our city for decades, it will not suddenly change the culture of a police department that has been in existence for 150 years,” he said.

Arradondo added he found it troubling that no elected official has reached out to him or spoken with him about the ballot question with any plan for what the new department, if enacted, would look like, including how many officers will be needed, or if they will be included in a new potential department.

“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,” Arradondo said.

Chief Arradondo says the unknown variables and the change brought by the referendum would not be good at a critical point of public safety. However, he said he expects the Minneapolis police to continue to protect the community even if the city votes in favor of the measure.

“Chief Arradondo is right, our city is flatlining and we ask too much of our police officers,” Corenia Smith, manager of the Yes 4 Minneapolis Campaign,  said in a video statement. “All because our current approach to public safety is not working. It’s working for a police officer and not for Minneapolis residents.”

The department’s current staffing levels are reportedly at an all-time low. The police chief told the city council that his department has lost nearly 300 officers since 2020 as violent crime spiked, according to CBS Minnesota. The department is asking for $27 million more in funding in 2022. The money would go toward rebuilding core services.

Chief Arradondo said there are 598 active sworn officers this year compared to 853 in 2019. The patrol bureau which responds to 911 calls has lost 131 officers — which the chief compares to staffing the equivalent of an entire precinct.

This comes at a time when crime has surged in Minneapolis. From January 1 to mid-October there have been 75 homicides, an increase of 114% compared to the same time in 2019, according to data shared by the department. Over the same period, victims of gunshot wounds soared to 530, an 138% increase. Robbery, arson and aggravated assault crimes have also increased.

With these numbers in mind, Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis said, “That’s with this system we have right now. So voting for the status quo is voting for what got us to that point.”

Osler compared the dynamic between the police and the people of Minneapolis to a “dysfunctional marriage” that could potentially be ending in divorce on Tuesday. “We have a police force that has contempt for the people they serve — that’s been expressed over and over and that dysfunctional marriage has to be changed somehow,” he said.

In April, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Justice Department opened a civil investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s policing practices following the conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.

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