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New charter amendment marks second attempt to scrap Minneapolis Police Department

Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher, and Jeremy Schroeder will introduce language to remove MPD from the city charter.

MINNEAPOLIS — Three members of the Minneapolis City Council plan to introduce a charter amendment on Friday with the goal of allowing voters to decide the future of the community's embattled police department, and determine what public safety will look like in the future.

Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher, and Jeremy Schroeder will introduce language for the "Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment," what they are calling the next step in putting a question to city residents on the coming November citywide ballot.

In a press release, the council members say the charter amendment would establish a Department of Public Safety in Minneapolis, which would "oversee and lead a continuum of public safety efforts that prevent, intervene in, and reduce crime and violence to create safer communities for everyone in Minneapolis."

READ: Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment Ordinance

As part of the plan, the Minneapolis Police Department would lose its status as a charter city department, and would be replaced by a redesigned Division of Law Enforcement within the Department of Public Safety.

“Minneapolis residents have a unified vision for a broader public safety system that keeps everyone in our communities safe and treats us all with dignity,” said Council Member Schroeder in a released statement. “This change would not only expand our public safety toolbox, but would also improve oversight and accountability -- both of which are critical building blocks of a Minneapolis that is safe and equitable for all.”

“Throughout 2020, we heard from residents from all walks of life about what they want to see from a system of public safety,” said Council Member Cunningham added. “The changes in this proposal reflect that we listened to that feedback.”

Mayor Frey's take

Mayor Jacob Frey told KARE he agrees the city's public safety mission should be broader than traditional policing, but he objects to language in the amendment that would remove the mayor as the ultimate authority over the police department.

"What I have not heard the public calling for is to have our head of public safety safety reporting to 14 different individuals, which would dramatically reduce accountability," Frey remarked, referring to the mayor plus 13 council members.

"Currently, when bad things or good things happen in public safety, there are two people held accountable. It's Chief Arradondo and myself. Diffusing that accountability is not a recipe for providing clear direction and it's certainly not a recipe for culture shift we want to see in the department."

Direct management control of the police chief and the department is one of the few powers given to the mayor in the city charter, which laid out a "weak mayor" form of government.

Council members supporting the amendment say they believe public safety shouldn't different from other city departments where council members are allowed to assert more control. 

Minimum staffing

The proposed amendment would remove the current minimum police staffing rule form the city charter.  The charter says set the floor at 0.007 percent of the city's population, which in the latest Census numbers equates to about 730 sworn officers.

As of Jan. 30 there were 817 sworn officers employed by the City of Minneapolis, but 155 of them were on continuous leave from a variety of factors, including post traumatic stress blamed on their role in the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd.

Mayor Frey says he doesn't mind seeing that minimum staffing level removed from the city charter, because he believes staffing should be part of budget negotiations between the council and mayor's office.

The council members say Thursday's introduction fits a timeline that would the measure to end up on the November 2021 ballot. Cunningham, Fletcher and Schroder also say the charter amendment supports a resolution unanimously passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Frey last June, that commits the city to transforming Minneapolis' public safety system and ensuring the safety of all residents. 

Last fall, the Minneapolis Charter Commission delayed a decision on a similar proposal, which prevented it from appearing on the November 2020 ballot.