Minneapolis voters in November will have the opportunity to decide whether to replace the city’s police department with a new Department of Public Safety.
The ballot question says the new department would take a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety, and notes that it could include licensed police officers.
Voters will also see an explanatory note about the ballot question, pointing out that it would be led by a new commissioner of public safety nominated by the mayor, but that the “mayor would not have complete power over the establishment, maintenance and command” of the department.
The citizen-driven effort emerged after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020. A coalition of progressive, community and racial justice groups going under the name Yes 4 Minneapolis collected more than 20,000 signatures to place the charter amendment on the ballot.
Minister JaNaé Bates, communications director of Yes 4 Minneapolis, said the process around the ballot question has proven that people in Minneapolis are excited to participate in re-envisioning public safety, both regarding how police interact with the community and for safety in the neighborhoods.
“This entire campaign is getting folks excited, we’ve been through well over a year now of some hardship and some growing pains and waking up to the realities that the city faces,” Bates said. “This is an opportunity to wake up to some really amazing solutions.”
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Mayor Jacob Frey is in charge of the Minneapolis Police Department. Bates said the charter amendment just removes hurdles that prevent the council from taking actions on public safety.
“Out of all the many departments in the city, the one department that is getting national and global headlines for being abusive right now is also the only one that the mayor has complete oversight over,” Bates said.
Frey opposes the charter amendment, and said in a statement that it “would mark a major setback for accountability and good governance.”
“The mayor will not be signing the measure, but appreciates the careful work and thorough analysis done by city staff to prepare fair and accurate language for voters to consider this fall,” Frey said. The lack of a signature will not prevent the question from appearing on the ballot.
Council President Lisa Bender congratulated the city residents who collected the petitions after the proposal was approved by the council by a vote of 12-1, with Lisa Goodman being the only no vote, paving the way for the amendment to appear on residents’ ballots in November.
”Having seen a few of these come through, just a very few in my time in office, it takes an incredible amount of work for folks to gather the signatures, to bring it forward and design the amendment,” Bender said.
Ballot initiatives on two other topics are still going through the city council process, and will be heard again in committee on Aug. 4.
City staff are preparing ballot language for two questions on rent stabilization. The first question would allow citizens to gather petitions to put proposals on rent stabilization policies directly before voters. The second question would allow the city council to formulate its own policies on rent stabilization.
Another proposal, which originated from the city’s Charter Commission, would change the city structure to give the mayor more power over Minneapolis government. Minneapolis currently has what’s known as a strong-council, weak-mayor system.
Those questions need to finish going through the council process by Aug. 20 in order to appear on the ballot.