Politics and Government

Minneapolis commission considers a new Police Department proposal

Twin Cities murals honoring George Floyd
The exterior of Moon Palace Books, near the former 3rd Precinct building at Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis, reads, "Abolish the police/Justice/BLM/Love." An alternative to a move by the Minneapolis City Council to remove the Police Department from the city's charter is in the works.
Awa Mally for MPR News file

Updated: 1:35 p.m.

An alternative to a move by the Minneapolis City Council to remove the Police Department from the city's charter is in the works. The Minneapolis Charter Commission will listen to public testimony Monday evening on its own measure that does not make changes on the same scale as the City Council's amendment.

In June, the Minneapolis City Council approved language of a proposed charter amendment — which, if passed by voters this fall, would dramatically change how the city delivers public safety. The proposed amendment seeks to remove the Minneapolis Police Department as a charter department and create in its place a department of community safety and violence prevention. 

Several council members called for the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department after the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Four former police officers are charged in the 46-year-old’s death.

But before voters may even consider removing the Police Department, the proposal has to make a number of stops. It is now in front of the city's charter commission.

Gathering at Powderhorn Park
Nine Minneapolis City Council members declared their commitment to defunding and dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department during a gathering at Powderhorn Park on June 7 along with the community groups Black Visions and Reclaim The Block.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News file

However, some commissioners questioned the need for such sweeping changes to the charter. Last week, Commissioner Alvaro Giraud-Isaacson offered his own narrowly tailored proposal, which removes a 1961 provision. Back then, Giraud-Isaacson said the City Council, with the support of the police federation, helped add a requirement to hire a certain amount of officers per Minneapolis resident to the charter.

"This gives the voters an opportunity to vote yea or nay on maintaining or removing the minimum funding of the police force," Giraud-Isaacson said.

If that requirement is eliminated, the Minneapolis City Council would be free to determine the size of the force. And the council could then take what the city spends to maintain current staffing levels and put the money toward non-law-enforcement-based safety programs. But the city would still be required to fund the Police Department.

The charter commission has the authority to place its own proposal on the ballot without the approval of the City Council. As a result, it is possible voters would have two police options to choose from.

Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg does not see that as a problem. He said both proposals would remove the minimum staffing requirement for the Police Department.

"Commissioner Giraud-Isaacson's proposal eliminates language which is in the current charter that is also eliminated by the council proposal,” Clegg said. “So I believe that if they both pass they would be consistent."

Thousands respond to City Council’s proposal

As for the City Council's proposal, the commission has held two public hearings and has received more than 5,000 emails. Clegg said the majority of people speaking at hearings favor the amendment to eliminate the Police Department. But the emails have run evenly — for and against.

City Council member Steve Fletcher found the charter commission's move to consider its own proposal unexpected and said it could also confuse voters.

Fletcher supports the elimination of the Police Department as a charter department and the subsequent creation of the new community safety agency. And he said a majority of the constituents he's heard from do, too.

Fletcher said he shares the concerns from some of the people who live in his ward that the charter commission — which is an appointed body — may interfere with the efforts of elected officials to remake the city's public safety system.

"I do think there will end up being questions about who are charter commissioners accountable to,” Fletcher said. “Who will hold them accountable for the actions they're taking and the role they're taking in the process?"

The commission's authority comes from the state constitution, which compels the Legislature to create charter commissions, said Charter Commission Chair Clegg. Charter commissioners in cities across the state are chosen by district courts through chief judges. Members of Minneapolis’ commission are appointed by chief judge of the Hennepin County District Court.

"There have been a number of people who have commented and think that the charter commission’s roles should just be ministerial — that we should be a rubber stamp for proposals by the City Council. At least under current law, those people are wrong," Clegg said.

Groups like Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block have called on city leaders to defund the police and use that money to provide housing and other basics for people in need.

Lex Horan with Reclaim the Block said the new amendment could weaken the power of the Police Department and its union.

"But we see it really as not transformative enough, given how severe the crisis with MPD is," Horan said, adding that he sees wider support for the new public safety agency the council's amendment would create.

The commission will vote whether to send the Giraud-Isaacson amendment to the November ballot later this week. It will make its decision about the council's proposal on Aug. 5.