Updated: March 5, 1:45 p.m. | Posted: March 4, 5:34 p.m.
A Minneapolis City Council panel has moved forward the latest proposal to eliminate the city’s Police Department as it is and pave the way for a new Department of Public Safety similar to the state agency.
The council's Public Health and Safety Committee voted to approve a proposal Thursday to allow Minneapolis voters to decide the fate of the Police Department this fall. The full City Council must sign off on the proposal, among the next steps.
Council members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder introduced the proposal in January. And they say details about the structure, leadership, function and other elements associated with the new department will be worked out with the help of public input in the coming weeks and months.
Fletcher responded to a colleague who expressed concerns that the council may be jeopardizing the public's trust by moving forward on the proposal before completing the public input process.
"For me, I think, there's a betrayal of trust in delay often as much as there is a betrayal of community trust in moving too quickly,” he said. “And we have to balance those things. I think we're getting it right. Which is why I'm co-authoring this and moving it forward."
Last month, dozens of residents weighed in on the proposal during a meeting of the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee.
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“We’ve been throwing good money after bad toward the MPD for far too long,” said James Weaver, one of dozens to speak during the hearing. “And amending the charter to situate the police under the council’s control in the department of public safety will help to rein in the MPD’s far too common use of violence in our community.”
However, some advocates for police accountability opposed the measure.
Michelle Gross, with Communities United Against Police Brutality, said the group worries about a lack of transparency when the enforcement division is “three layers down under a department that reports to a City Council committee, that then reports to the City Council as a whole. In other words, the department will be less accountable to the community and less visible.”
During Thursday’s meeting, council member Linea Palmisano echoed those concerns.
"The way that I read this charter proposal, it adds two layers of overlapping authority onto our existing structure,” said Palmisano, who was the lone “no” vote on the committee. “Under this new proposal, the chief becomes significantly less accountable."
As it is, the plan has a long legislative path before it.
The full council is scheduled to take a vote on March 12, which could send the proposal forward to the city's charter commission. The commission has up to 150 days to consider the language.
Last summer, the council proposed a similar measure to change the Minneapolis Police Department. Members of the commission complained council members rushed the process and decided to take more time to consider it. That stalled the council’s effort to get the language in front of voters last November.
Editor’s note (March 5, 2021): This story has been updated to clarify the concerns to which Fletcher responded.