Effort to replace MPD stalls as key panel delays decision

Demonstrators carry signs and march.
Demonstrators march against racism and police brutality and to defund the Minneapolis Police Department on June 6.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images

Updated: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 | Posted: 6:35 p.m. Aug. 5

Minneapolis voters will not get the chance this fall to decide whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department after a key city commission Wednesday put the process on hold, with members saying they needed more information.

By a 10-5 vote, the Minneapolis Charter Commission agreed to delay a decision to replace the current police structure with a community safety agency — a change backed by a majority of the Minneapolis City Council in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

The Charter Commission could have approved, rejected or modified the language of the proposal. Instead, commissioners chose to delay a decision and take another 90 days to consider the council's proposal — which means there won’t be enough time for the language to meet the Aug. 21 deadline for the Nov. 3 election.

Draft language of the amendment posted online would replace the department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, “which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”

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On Wednesday, members said they need more time to assess what the passage could mean for city residents.

Some commissioners who supported the delay said the process was too rushed to make such an important decision. And some said the city doesn't need to change the charter in order to reform the department.

Others said if residents feel like they don't have enough information, they can just vote no, but it should be up to voters, not the commission. Most of the people who’ve testified at the panel’s hearings recently have said they want the chance to vote on such an amendment, and they support the change.

Despite the delay, some City Council members said they still want to put the measure to a vote next year. City Council President Lisa Bender said the council would take its own steps in the meantime — which could mean a bigger slice from next year’s police budget.

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender on the Charter Commission vote
by All Things Considered with Tom Crann

In her interview with MPR News Thursday, Bender said that she doesn’t know if voters would have approved replacing the Police Department, and that she herself isn’t ready, either, to simply do away with traditional law enforcement.

“So to me, yes, we still need a police force in Minneapolis today. I support having a police force in Minneapolis today,” she said. “But we need more investment in violence prevention to keep our community safe.”

Council member Steve Fletcher, one of the authors of the proposal, said before the vote that even if the commission decided it needed more time, the city would continue to move ahead with the community engagement process to “build a collective vision of what we really want the future of public safety to look like.”

“Our approach to public safety has not been working for too many of our residents for too long, yet we have rarely considered anything other than whether to do more or less of the same thing,” said Fletcher. “We have a responsibility to transform our approach to public safety and to act.” 

Community groups that support the proposed amendment denounced the delay in the Charter Commission’s decision.

Demonstrators march in the street.
Demonstrators calling to defund the Minneapolis Police Department march on University Avenue on June 6. The march, organized by the Black Visions Collective, commemorated the life of George Floyd.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

“People in Minneapolis are ready for transformative change and an end to violent policingnow,” said Oluchi Omeoga of Black Visions. “We will keep movingtalking to our neighbors, building up alternative institutions to keep each other safe, and demanding city dollars for care and resources for our neighbors instead of a violent and unaccountable police force.” 

The ACLU-Minnesota also issued a statement following the Charter Commission vote, saying the move “will prevent voters from achieving change and deciding the future of policing in their own city this November.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday said he remains opposed to eliminating the department, The Associated Press reported.

“We should not go down the route of simply abolishing the Police Department,” Frey said. “What we need to see within this department, and within many departments throughout the country, is a full-on culture shift.”

The mayor and Chief Medaria Arradondo have moved ahead with their own changes since Floyd’s death, including requiring officers to document attempts to de-escalate situations whether or not force is used. They also have expanded requirements for reporting use-of-force incidents, ordering officers to provide more detail.

Council President Bender also called on the mayor to unilaterally start sending some nonviolent 911 calls to city staff outside the Police Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.