Council members sought Wednesday to reassure the Minneapolis Charter Commission, with some commissioners expressing concerns that the council was rushing to push through the proposal so voters can decide it in the November election.
The proposal would eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new agency, the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. The commission needs to sign off on the question by Aug. 21 for it to be possible to make the November ballot.
Some commissioners asked the council members why they feel a charter change is necessary. Commissioner Peter Ginder said the council has always had the power to cut as many as 180 officers from the force.
"You could have done it last year or the year before or this coming year. There's roughly $20 million that would be available for the office of violence prevention," Ginder said.
Council members say that wouldn't go far enough toward changing how the city delivers public safety services.
Council member Alondra Cano told the Charter Commission that the council has tried to reform the Police Department for the past five years, and she saw all of that work "go down the drain" when Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes. Floyd's death sparked protests around the world.
Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein asked how the council would address people's fears that the process is rushed and lacks details and planning.
"What we're actually describing is a much more planful and intentional process than has often been portrayed," answered Council member Steve Fletcher, a co-author of the proposal. He said council staff should come back July 24 with a plan for engaging the public on the proposal.
Council member Jeremiah Ellison said the proposed charter amendment would "allow us to reimagine public safety entirely" and would "change the culture of public safety" by deemphasizing the "use of armed force as a response to every situation."
Commissioner Dan Cohen said the Charter Commission should hear from the police rank-and-file and its union representative. The amendment would still allow for armed police officers as part of a division of licensed peace officers who would answer to the new department's director.
"I don't think this should be framed as an anti-police initiative," Cano said. She said officers are welcome to be part of the conversation.
The 15-member commission will hold two public hearings on the amendment, including one on July 15.
MPR News reporter Brandt Williams contributed to this report.
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