Minneapolis voters will decide next month whether to shut down the police department that employed the officer who killed George Floyd last year and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that would combine the city’s public safety functions into a “comprehensive public health approach to safety.”
The ballot initiative aims to amend the City Charter. The Department of Public Safety‘s duties would be determined by the mayor and the 13-member city council, and licensed police officers could be hired to fulfill those duties.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat and an outspoken critic of the police force, supports the initiative, which was proposed by the Yes 4 Minneapolis PAC led by Kandace Montgomery, director of the Black Visions Collective.
The coalition’s campaign had received $1.48 million as of July, according to Ballotpedia.com. The Open Society Policy Center, founded by left-wing billionaire George Soros, became its top donor after with a $500,000 contribution over the summer.
Minneapolis has more than 429,000 residents, and the proposal seeks to eliminate the minimum staffing requirement of at least 1 police officer per 1,000 residents, which is included in the charter.
As of Sept. 25, the Minneapolis Police Department had 250 unfilled officer positions, according to a spokesperson who said only 638 of its 888 allotted positions were filled.
As of Monday, city data show violent crime is up, albeit slightly, compared to the same time last year — rising from 4,165 incidents to 4,250.
According to the Yes 4 Minneapolis website, the coalition wants a Department of Public Safety to employ mental health experts, social workers, violence interrupters and police.
The police-only model for community safety, it says, should be replaced so officers “can perform the duties they are trained and disciplined to do for specific situations that the community, local leaders, experts and professionals decide together, while many other roles can be filled by those better suited for certain interventions and prevention of harm.”
“Minneapolis is likely seen as a progressive experiment by the Open Society Policy Center, ignoring the consequences for the people who live and work in the city,” said Betsy Brantner Smith, spokesperson for the National Police Association.
Ms. Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant, said it would be “naive” to think the initiative would improve conditions in the city and the push to replace MPD stems from the “false narrative that police officers are the ones responsible for the violence that befalls the public.”
State Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, tweeted in August that “as a resident of [Minneapolis] where George Floyd’s murder sparked a national call for real reform, I will vote yes for greater public safety and more human rights for all.”
“Fundamentally, communities across [Minneapolis] need and want the possibility for reform and accountability, which the current charter blocks by locking us into an outdated model for law enforcement and safety,” Mr. Ellison tweeted. “They want to end the cycle of inaction.”
If voters approve the ballot measure, the Department of Public Safety would be funded with the police department budget, which is currently $164 million, about 15% less than the $193 million budget approved in 2020.
Additionally, police Chief Medaria Arradondo would be ousted, and the new agency would be led by a commissioner appointed by Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey.
Mr. Frey, who exercises ultimate control and oversight of the police force, does not like that he would be forced to share control of a Department of Public Safety.
“It would have the city council control the police department,” the mayor said in a July interview with CBS4-TV. “It would have the chief of police or the head of public safety report to 14 different people — 13 council members and the mayor — and it substantially reduces accountability.”
Chief Arradondo echoed those sentiments during an August news conference, saying the change would add more “layers of bureaucracy” and would be “wholly unbearable” for any law enforcement leader.
The Yes 4 Minneapolis PAC, however, argues that “citywide democratic” control of the new department by various officials would make public safety “fairer and more equitable for all.”
A similar proposal surfaced last summer, under which the police department would be replaced by a “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.” It initially had support from the majority of the City Council, but it fizzled out after a city commission voted against.
Floyd, a Black man, was killed when a White police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes in May 2020, sparking protests against racial injustice and police brutality across the country and the world. The officer was found guilty of Floyd‘s murder in April.