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Politics and Government

Poll: Public safety amendment has edge, but most don't want police cuts

Minneapolis
A photo of a yellow crime scene tape with police cars in the background.
Police crime scene tape is seen near 36th Street East and Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis on Dec. 30, 2020, after Minneapolis police shot and killed a man.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

With about six weeks to go until Election Day and early voting already underway, more Minneapolis voters say they support creating a new department of public safety than oppose it, with a significant number of voters still undecided. Even so, a majority of voters polled say crime is rising and they don’t want to cut the size of the city’s police force.

And Black voters are less likely to support the proposed public safety department than white voters and are more concerned that cutting the police force would have a negative effect on public safety. 

The MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE 11/FRONTLINE Minnesota Poll shows 49 percent favor a new public safety department, which would also give the city council more authority over public safety. Forty-one percent oppose it and 10 percent are undecided. 

The question gets to the heart of a proposed charter amendment, the language of which has been the subject of ongoing court challenges which were finally settled by the Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday.

Maria Lander Cabrera, who identifies as Latina, said she wants to see more social workers and health professionals deployed in emergency situations, and supports the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment because she wants to see real change in policing.  

“They’ve tried to reform the MPD, and it hasn’t worked,” Cabrera said. “It hasn’t changed anything and they haven’t changed.”

Stephanie Cholensky, who is white, said she’s been following the ups and downs as the proposed charter amendment wobbled its way onto the ballot. She said she thinks Mayor Jacob Frey has capitulated to the police union. 

“The amount that we spend on police is just absurd,” Cholensky said. “It's not even fair to the police because they're expected to handle problems like homelessness and drug abuse and things that, really, we need to be solving with social programs rather than just treating everyone who has problems like criminals.” 

Opponents of the measure have said it would defund the Minneapolis Police Department, although supporters say that’s not the case. Black voters were more likely to oppose the charter amendment than white voters. 

Pamela Kinsey, who is Black, said she wishes police had more compassion for the community, but doesn't think the city should get rid of the MPD, especially following a string of shootings where young people were killed.

"I'm really for the police department. We need them. We've got criminals out here that are really bad people,” Kinsey said. “We need the police department. There's no if ands or buts about it."

John J. Ursu, who is white and lives in southwest Minneapolis, said he thinks the charter change on public safety would be a “disaster.” 

“No one knows what it means to begin with,” Ursu said. “I think Don Samuels and his wife and the people who were challenging how understandable [the ballot question] is were right.” 

The poll finds that even though the public safety amendment has an edge, most Minneapolis voters do not want to cut the number of police officers.

The results show 55 percent of voters do not support reducing the size of the police department, compared to 29 percent who do and that 55 percent feel that a reduction in the size of the police force would have a negative effect on public safety. Only 20 percent believe reducing the size of the police force would have a positive effect. 

Ea Porter, who is Black and lives in north Minneapolis, said she thinks some of the support for keeping officer levels up stems from the crime people are seeing in their neighborhoods. 

“I think Black voters are more likely to feel the effects of the lack of effective, and inadequate policing,” she said. “Again, don't experiment on us, because we're the ones that are going to be hit hardest first.” 

The results show nearly three quarters of those polled believe crime has increased in the city the past few years, but that only a third have a favorable view of the police department. Fifty-three percent say they have an unfavorable view of the police department. 

Vamsi Grussing is originally from India and lives on the city's northside. Rather than improving, he thinks Minneapolis police have gotten worse since George Floyd's murder and may be retaliating against the public for the protests by slowing response times. 

“They pretty much decided not to do their job. And so why should we actually consider them as the go-to authority for law and order?” he said. “They're making this case better and easier for us to decide on."

But when asked about Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, 55 percent have a favorable opinion compared to 22 percent with an unfavorable opinion. 

The poll also contacted 500 Black Minneapolis voters to try to get a sense of how their opinions tracked with the overall sample. 

In general, Black voters were less likely to want the size of the police force reduced (75 percent of Black voters said the city should not cut the police force compared to 51 percent of white voters), and more likely to think cutting the force would have a negative effect on public safety (68 percent of Black voters thought it would have a negative effect compared to 52 percent of white voters).

Black voters also were more favorable toward Chief Arradondo than white voters and less likely to support the public safety charter amendment. (42 percent of Black voters expressed support for the aims of the amendment compared to 51 percent of white voters). 

Mickey Moore, who identifies as white and Black, and is running for the Minneapolis City Council, was randomly chosen for the survey. He said he believes that people have faith in Arradondo because of his roots in the city, and they believe the chief can improve the department because he’s personally confronted racism. In 2007, Arradondo and a group of Black police officers sued the department for discrimination and reached a $740,000 settlement with the city.  

“Now we have a chief who is not just from our community, he’s expressly committed to our community, and understands the historic bad conditions that our police department has operated with,” Moore said. “He knows it because he’s been through it himself.” 

The poll of 800 registered voters in the city was conducted Sept. 9 - 13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

The margin of error for the Black voter numbers is higher than that of the overall survey, plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. 

Correction (Sept. 18, 2021): An earlier version of a graphic with this story incorrectly reported the net support among Black residents of Minneapolis for replacing the police department with a new Department of Public Safety. The graphic has been updated.