City Council Advances Proposed Ballot Measure Asking Voters to Create a New Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention
The City Council voted today to advance a proposed ballot measure that would ask Minneapolis voters to amend the City Charter to create a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention and remove the Police Department as a charter department.
The proposal has been referred to the Minneapolis Charter Commission for its meeting 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 8 and the City Council’s Policy & Government Oversight Committee for its meeting 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 9. Under state law, the Charter Commission has at least 60 days to complete its review and submit its recommendation to the City Council. [NOTE: The Chair of the Charter Commission has called a special meeting for next Wednesday, July 1, at 4 p.m., to receive and discuss the proposed charter amendment referred to day by the City Council.]
The Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention would have responsibility for “public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach,” according to the proposed charter amendment. As a charter department, the director would be nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council. The director would have non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.
The ordinance provides that the City may maintain a division of law enforcement services composed of licensed peace officers subject to the supervision of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.
The statutory deadline for submitting questions on the Nov. 3 general election ballot is Friday, Aug. 21. If approved by voters, the changes would become effective May 1, 2021.
Ward 3 Neighbors --
It’s been one month since George Floyd was killed.
It’s been a month of outrage, of mourning, of reaction, and of fear.
It’s been a month of coming together to comfort and protect each other.
It’s been a month of confronting problems we feel ashamed to have allowed to persist for so long.
I’ve heard from many of you that words I’ve used like “defund” or “dismantle” resonate deeply with your sense of justice, and the urgency of the moment. We need you in the conversation to come.
I’ve also heard from some of you that the negativity of those words makes you uncomfortable – that you can work in aspirational, positive frameworks like “re-imagine” and “vision” to move forward, but are worried about the fear negativity provokes. We need you in this conversation, too.
I've heard from others who are opposed to the way our city is proceeding, either because you want to preserve the way we currently do policing, or because we’re not going far enough into the realm of police abolition. We need you in these conversations, too, even when it’s hard.
I want to challenge everybody to push through your discomfort, and stick with this. People are mourning. People are processing. People are scared. Not everybody needs the same message at the same time, and we can’t let our discomfort turn us away from one another.
This is too important. We can’t give up, and we must not fail. Big changes are only going to achieve their desired result if everybody is at the table. We will have only finally achieved safety when EVERYONE feels safe in our community. We’ll be rolling out a more specific engagement plan with more concrete ways you can participate starting in late July. In the meantime, I’ll continue to hold online meetings, including one next Thursday, July 2 at 6:00 P.M., and I hope you’ll join (details below).
We’re at the very beginning of a long road, starting with a year of community engagement to re-design and re-build our public safety infrastructure from the ground up. This is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done together, and this moment calls us to greatness. We can see that there are deep, structural changes required to get to real safety – changes in state law, changes to the Federation contract, changes to policy, changes to our City Charter, and more.
Today, we started the process of tackling one of those changes. I’m a co-author of an ordinance that will advance an amendment to the City Charter to the Charter Commission, in hopes of getting it on the ballot so that you have the chance to vote on it.
Our current charter requires us to maintain a Police Department with a minimum staffing level. If the community envisions a system different from that, we’re out of luck, until we change the charter to be flexible enough to allow for change.
Our current charter has the Police Department report directly to the Mayor, circumventing the processes in city government that provide reliable transparency and opportunities for participation and feedback.
The charter amendment we’re proposing today fixes those structural flaws. It would eliminate the Police Department as a charter department, and create a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. The new department reports to the Council the same way every other department of the city does. It has a broad public safety mission.
The amendment gives the Council the flexibility to include a division of law enforcement within this new department that employees licensed peace officers. It’s not required, and there’s no minimum or maximum limits for staffing. We’re literally creating the opportunity for the city to determine its own path, together.
If we want to do a Camden-style restart, as many have said, we need a charter change. If we want to abolish the police, as some are calling for, we need a charter change. If we want to create a more balanced department that relies less on police but maintains a police force, we need a charter change. And if we want the council to create increased public accountability and policy oversight in public safety, we need a charter change.
If we want to maintain the status quo, we can do that under either version of the charter. Shame on us if we do, but the activists who are pointing out that this is not in itself the change we need are correct. We are not pre-deciding the outcomes, ahead of the community engagement we have promised.
What we are doing is eliminating one of the main structural barriers to that change.
What we are doing is putting the question to the voters. The people of Minneapolis should have a chance to decide. Voters can vote no if they want to maintain the structural barriers that have prevented changes for decades. Voter can vote yes if they want to create a more flexible and responsive government that innovate, improve, and provide a new approach to public safety.
I, for one, am excited to hear what the voters have to say.
The violence of the last week has been shocking and heartbreaking. It was a harsh reminder, not that we needed it, of how high the stakes are. This is not a game. We cannot fail at our task. We cannot continue to pretend that the system we have is working. We cannot keep forgiving our failings and clinging to false safety.
This charter isn’t itself the change we need, but it is structural change that we need in order to do the work ahead. From the shock, outrage and mourning of this terrible month, we are emerging with determination and creativity, to re-imagine public safety and insist on a vision of equity, security, and peace.
Accelerating and Building On Our Work to Create Alternatives to Police Response
Our community is demanding urgent change in our approach to public safety, and the Minneapolis City Council is ready to act.
While none of us could have predicted the events of the last month, many of us have been laying the groundwork for a shift in approach for years. That means that even while we begin a year of community engagement, there are already research-based programs and strategies that have been publicly vetted and can be acted on now.
In 2018, the Minneapolis City Council created the Office of Violence Prevention in the Department of Public Health, and reallocated 1.1 million dollars from a proposed MPD increase to give it initial funding. That office, on that meager budget, has built programs and public-private partnerships to deploy a public health approach to group violence, at risk youth, and more. As a result of that work, we have the opportunity to invest in programs that are proven, already operational, and can expand.
This Council has expanded the funding for mental health co-responders and increased the percentage of mental health calls that we can respond to.
In 2019, the City of Minneapolis convened a 911 working group composed of city staff and community members publicly appointed by the City Council, which has done a groundbreaking deep dive analysis into how we respond to 911 calls, what types of calls we receive in what volume, and where there are opportunities to respond better and produce better outcomes with non-police responses. Their initial report came through too late to be implemented in last year’s budget, but it has always been this Council’s intention to act on these thoughtful and data-driven suggestions.
This work resonates with work in progress at Hennepin County spearheaded by Commissioner Irene Fernando to improve 911’s agility to enact more nuanced dispatch.
We’ll also continue to leverage and support community partnerships to produce solutions. I’ve been lucky to be part of a downtown safety collaborative that includes a range of partners from the DID, to YouthLink, to the Hennepin Theater Trust and more. We’ve been field testing approaches including new resources for youth outreach, DID Ambassadors at late night, de-escalatory work from Mad Dads and other partners, and more to create a multi-layered approach to respond to the ways that downtown has not always felt or been safe. That work, and similar partnerships in communities all over the city, also provides evidence-based, tested programs that can expand and adapt to our safety needs.
In short: the Minneapolis City Council has generated programs, partnerships, and plans that we can build on now, even as we engage in the big picture conversation about public safety. There will be more to come on these opportunities soon.