Updated: Oct. 6, 10:42 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m.
Minneapolis voters this November will have the opportunity to weigh in on a proposal that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department in the city charter with a new Department of Public Safety.
The proposal was put on the ballot in the wake of George Floyd’s killing after supporters gathered more than 20,000 signatures. It’s drawn opposition from some who say it’s too vague and would undermine reform efforts.
What would the Yes 4 Minneapolis charter amendment do?
If voters approve the ballot question, the city’s charter, essentially its constitution, would be amended. The Police Department is currently a chartered organization in Minneapolis, meaning it’s required.
The amendment would replace the Police Department in the charter with a new Department of Public Safety. The new agency would take a “public health approach to safety,” according to the amendment. That agency would include licensed police officers “if necessary.”
If it passes, the Minneapolis City Council would have to create the new department from scratch. The Minneapolis Police Department would not be abolished; it would continue to exist unless the City Council voted it out of existence, but would no longer be required by the charter.
Who would control the new Department of Public Safety?
The charter currently gives the mayor “complete power over the establishment, maintenance and command of the police department,” which makes it unique in Minneapolis city government. Removing those lines from the charter would also remove the mayor’s exclusive control of Minneapolis police. The new language allows the City Council to have more control of the new Department of Public Safety from the start.
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How could the new department differ from the police?
Supporters argue that the new Department of Public Safety could prioritize public health approaches to safety. That could mean doubling down on programs like the ones currently run out of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention. Supporters also envision a more targeted approach to public safety, for instance, calling mental health professionals into some situations instead of armed police. Most supporters envision a department that includes licensed and armed police officers.
That said, the exact structure of the new department, and the day-to-day work, would need to be figured out by the City Council if the amendment passes. In theory, the Minnesota Department of Public’s Safety’s law enforcement arm in the Minnesota State Patrol could offer a model.
Would the amendment get rid of Chief Medaria Arradondo?
The amendment would remove a requirement that the city have a police chief. That position would be replaced by a commissioner of public safety, who would be nominated by the mayor and approved by the City Council.
Mayor Jacob Frey and groups opposing the amendment have latched onto the argument that Arradondo would lose his job. Council members who are supporting the amendment have argued that the amendment just erases the requirement to have a police chief and that Arradondo could possibly be installed as head of the new department.
Would the amendment abolish the police?
It would erase a mandatory minimum staffing level for police that’s in the charter. It currently requires 1.7 police officers for every 1,000 residents, which came out to 730 officers based on the previous census. The city is currently about 100 officers short of that number.
Licensed police officers are required by state law to respond to some calls.
Who opposes the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment?
A group called All of Mpls has formed to oppose the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment and support another ballot question that would reorganize city government to give the mayor more executive authority.
The group reported raising $109,000 in July from fewer than two dozen donors.
Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (who doesn’t represent Minneapolis) have all been critical of the effort.
A group of community residents, including former City Council member Don Samuels, have filed a lawsuit against the ballot question, asking for an immediate hearing from a Hennepin County District Court judge.
Chief Arradondo also said in a statement that the changes to the charter “would be a wholly unbearable position for any law enforcement leader or chief.”
Who supports the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment?
A coalition of groups calling itself Yes 4 Minneapolis has been pushing the charter amendment. It includes everything from the LGBTQ advocacy group Outfront Minnesota to unions like Unite Here Local 17 to leftist groups like the Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America.
The coalition reported raising more than half a million dollars. Most of their funds came from small donors, but they also received substantial donations from groups like the national ACLU and $125,000 from Reclaim the Block and another $100,000 from the Black Visions Collective, which were some of the activist groups pushing for changes to policing in the city after George Floyd’s murder.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison have both come out in favor of the charter amendment.
How did this get on the ballot?
Supporters of the amendment gathered more than 20,000 signatures, and just over 14,000 of those were validated by the Minneapolis City Clerk’s office.
The amendment went through the city’s Charter Commission, who are appointed by the chief judge in Hennepin County.
There was controversy and a lengthy legal battle over the ballot question language, mostly due to the “explanatory language” that city staff attached to the ballot question.
First, supporters of the amendment sued, saying the explanatory language was misleading. The judge agreed and sent the language back to the City Council who passed the question again without explanatory language.
Opponents then sued, saying without the explanatory language, the question was too vague. The judge sent it back for council review again, and the City Council submitted revised language with a four-sentence explanatory note minutes before the deadline for printing ballots.
With ballots sent for printing and days before early voting began on Sept. 17, a district court judge ruled that the question was “unreasonable and misleading” and said the county needed to include a note on the ballot telling voters that any votes on the amendment wouldn’t be counted. But the Minnesota Supreme Court intervened, saying the question should remain and votes should be counted.
What else is on the ballot?
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is up for reelection. He’s facing strong challenges from community organizer Sheila Nezhad, former state Rep. Kate Knuth and nonprofit director A.J. Awed, among others. All seats in the Minneapolis City Council are also up for reelection.
In addition to the charter amendment on public safety, Minneapolis voters will have the chance to weigh in on two other amendments. The first, which was introduced by the Charter Commission, would reorganize Minneapolis city government to give the mayor’s office more executive powers. The other ballot question would give the Minneapolis City Council the authority to craft rent control policies.
When does voting start?
Early voting began Sept. 17. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
What will voters see on their ballots?
Department of Public Safety
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.