Q&A: Minneapolis Mayor and candidate Jacob Frey

the mayor poses for a headshot
Jacob Frey, incumbent mayor of Minneapolis
Courtesy photo

Election Day is less than two weeks away. Many Minnesotans are already voting by mail and in person.

This week on Minnesota Now, host Cathy Wurzer speaks with five of the leading candidates in Minneapolis’ mayoral race about their views and their plans.

On Thursday, it was Mayor Jacob Frey’s turn. Frey has served one term as Minneapolis mayor. He previously served on the Minneapolis City Council.

Minneapolis, as you know, has a gun violence problem. What is the short-term plan to tamp down the violence? 

What I have said consistently is that we need a “both-and” approach to public safety. Yes, we need safety beyond policing. Of course, we need a deep-seated culture shift in how our department operates. And simultaneously, we need law enforcement. And while it does take longer than all of us would like to bring recruiting classes in, the chief and I have requested additional mutual aid assistance from other jurisdictions. We had [American Rescue Plan] monies that went in part to purchase cameras for some of the hotspots around our city.

We're focusing strategically on the resources that we have, in the locations that are most likely to see gun violence, and we do have quite a bit of safety beyond policing work. Again, all of these facets need to work together. There is no magic wand fix. It requires us to dig in and do the work and I'm doing that work every single day with Chief [Medaria] Arradondo.  

The department is dealing with a severe shortage of officers. About a quarter of the city's cops have retired or quit since George Floyd's murder.

But, there's this investigative report from Reuters that finds a drop in responding to calls, and response times is steeper than the attrition of officers. And some officers are telling Reuters that they've even started taking long routes to calls to avoid responding. What's happening in the department that you're in charge of? 

That's right. Let's look at the data on all of these issues. And what we're seeing right now is longer response times going from 11 minutes previously to 15 minutes now. That's unacceptable. We have seen dramatic attrition, as you've mentioned over this last year, losing up to about a third of our police department. And yes, there are repercussions to that. 

People need to be able to call 911 and get a response from an officer, whether it's a domestic violence situation or a shooting. And as you mentioned, I've also seen concerning situations as well, where we do want to make sure that officers are doing their jobs as quickly and as efficiently and as fairly and justly as they possibly can. And I have had conversations with the chief on those very matters.

We also just need to be blunt and honest here. Right now we have fewer officers per capita than just about any major city in the entire country.* And as Chief Arradondo has mentioned, when you have a one-dimensional police department, when you aren't fully able to conduct investigations, to do community outreach, to have a gang interdiction unit, the work suffers. You need to be able to have a multi-dimensional department. Yes, that includes safety beyond policing as an important component, to do this work in full. 

Editor’s note: MPR News was unable to verify Frey's claims on the uniqueness or size of Minneapolis' police department compared to other cities.  

You oppose ballot question no. 2 to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety. You agree, though, there needs to be deep, structural changes in the MPD.

We've been talking to supporters of the ballot question. They say that the circumstances are so desperate that the chance has to be taken to move toward change, rather than settle for what they say would be the same old thing. What's your response to that? 

I think we all need to be specific and honest here. Let's look at what this ballot question does do and what it doesn't do. I think every single candidate — every mayoral candidate, council candidates — running for office right now believes in safety beyond policing. We all believe that not every 911 call requires a response from an officer with a gun. Whether that's a mental health responder or a social worker, we can pair a unique skill set with the unique experiences that are happening on the ground. And we have invested record amounts of money, almost every single budget, in that exact work. We're already doing it now. Do you need a charter amendment to do that work? No, you do not.

Here is the reason that I am opposed to question no. 2: It would have the head person of this department report to 14 different people — 13 council members and the mayor. When everybody's in charge, nobody's in charge, and if you've got one council member from Ward 3 or 4 telling you to do something different than Wards 9 or 10, that's a problem. And we've looked around the country and can't find another city with this kind of model.

Editor’s note: MPR News was unable to verify Frey's claims on the uniqueness of the organizational model proposed in ballot question no. 2.  

And so, do we need deep change? Absolutely, we do. And so, let's talk about the specifics, how the culture shift should function, the state laws that need to get changed, the city ordinances and laws that we need to expedite and change. Let's talk about that. I think now is a time when we all as a city can unite around some common principles. We should integrate our approach to public safety. We should bring on more community-oriented police officers. We should have safety beyond policing. And yes, we need to get serious about reform. Let's do those things because we can galvanize around that common cause. 

You say you will vote yes on ballot question no. 3 that deals with rent control. But you've spent months talking about your opposition to rent control, and you vetoed a different measure on rent control. So this appears to be a change of view. What happened? 

No, actually, it's exactly the same position I've held all along on two separate issues. So, I continue to oppose rent control in its classic form, because by the way, every single economist out there that we've seen, ranging from the far left to the right, have said that, practically speaking, it just doesn't work.

I have also long held a position for local control. In other words, for allowing municipalities, city councils, to consult with experts, listen to data and then legislate policy. This particular charter amendment does not create rent control. This allows a city council to deliberate if they so choose. Will I be for any ordinance that the council may or may not come up with? I can't tell you. I haven't seen the ordinance yet.

But, regardless of whether I do agree with the issue, and I've made it clear, I do not. I still do support the ability to deliberate on it. There was another ballot initiative that would have been initiative via referendum. I vetoed that one. I, for instance, wouldn't support the policy moving forward in St. Paul, which is different. But this particular policy, which simply allows us to deliberate? Yes. 

What do you think it means when seven DFL state lawmakers who represent different parts of Minneapolis, who you've worked with in the past, tell voters they hope anyone else but you is elected? 

I don't think there should be any surprise that in October, there is politics taking place in a political system. That's the reality. But as far as this whole “don't rank Frey” push that we've seen, you know, candidates joining together, I think the entirety of the campaign is really based on what they're against. And I'm talking about what we're for.

As far as my opponents go, here's what we do know. Sheila [Nezhad] is an abolitionist, full stop. Those are her words, not mine. And Kate [Knuth] has consistently been inconsistent. When she wanted the DFL endorsement, she was embracing the “defund the police” movement. When polling on it was slipping, she changed her position. As a New Brighton state legislator, she voted to push, in part, to get rid of civilian oversight. Now that's a critical component of what she's trying to get done.

Now, what I'm offering is an honest take. You need mayors to be steady right now. To do the job of mayor you can't be a barometer. You got to be a compass. And we are charting an honest and clear path forward. 

The above interview transcript was edited lightly for clarity.

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