Minneapolis voters reject plan to overhaul city policing

People watch CNN from a bar.
People order drinks at the bar as they watch results come in at the Yes 4 Minneapolis Election Night Party in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated Nov. 3, 2:42 p.m. | Posted Nov. 2, 2:33 p.m.

Minneapolis voters on Tuesday soundly defeated a controversial plan intended to remake policing in the city.

A proposed amendment — question No. 2 on the ballot — would have altered the Minneapolis police structure and dropped language from the city charter tying the size of the force to the city’s population.

A remade Department of Public Safety would have been established to provide a "comprehensive public health approach” that "could include" police officers "if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety." Fifty-six percent of voters rejected it.

The measure deeply divided city leaders and became the focus of intense national scrutiny. In a stunning turn, two City Council members who supported overhauling the police — Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremy Schroeder — lost their bids for reelection Tuesday.

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Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposed the measure, said it was time now to find consensus on law enforcement reform. “I think all of us can now stop with the hashtags and the slogans and the simplicity, and say let’s all unite around things that we all agree on,” he said.

Backers contended that a complete remake of public safety was needed in the wake of the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and that the current force could not be reformed.

Frey, Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other leaders, however, warned the changes wouldn’t repair relations between residents and police and could seriously damage a department already severely understaffed.

“We’re flatlining right now,” Arradondo told reporters last week.

Opponents of the measure argued that it would create a public safety system with "14 bosses," referring to the members of the Minneapolis City Council, which would share oversight of the new department with the mayor. They also argued that reforms could be made within the current structure of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The ballot measure helped drive people to the polls. Turnout for early voting in Minneapolis easily smashed records from previous mayoral election years. Early voting statistics released Monday night showed more than 11 percent of registered voters had already voted.

“We have accepted about double the total number of early ballots this year as compared to four years ago in 2017, and we served almost double the number of in-person early voters this year on our final day of the early voting period as we did four years ago,” said Casey Carl, the Minneapolis city clerk.

The vote showed a very strong relationship between support for Frey’s reelection effort and opposition to the public safety department. The stronger Frey did in a precinct, the better “No” tended to do on the public safety department.

While advocates of the measure said wholesale change was needed, residents were almost evenly divided.

Rishi Khanna, 31, a tech worker, voted yes on replacing the Police Department, saying he doesn’t believe police officers are qualified to deal with many situations, such as mental health crises. He said he thinks having professionals equipped to deal with a range of public safety issues in the same department as law enforcement will benefit both residents and police officers.

“I understand that law enforcement will have to have a seat at the table, but I think both in our community and in communities around the country, too often law enforcement is the only seat at the table,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right solution.”

Askari Lyons, 61, voted against the ballot initiative. A resident of the city’s largely Black north side, where violent crime runs higher than in the rest of the city, he said he believes Minneapolis police officers “may have learned a lesson after George Floyd’s death and what happened to the cop that killed him.”

Lyons called it “unwise” to replace the department and said he believes change within the department is imminent.

“People are so frustrated, so angry, so disappointed” with the violence occurring citywide as much as they are with the city’s law enforcement, he said.

Supporters of the change argued that a complete overhaul of policing was necessary to stop police violence. They framed it as a chance to re-imagine what public safety can be and to devote more funding toward new approaches that don’t rely on sending armed officers to deal with people in crisis.

But opponents said the ballot proposal contained no concrete plan for how the new department would operate and expressed fear that it might make communities already affected by gun violence even more vulnerable to rising crime. The details, and who would lead the new agency, would have been determined by the mayor and the City Council.

An MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE 11/FRONTLINE Minnesota Poll in September showed 49 percent favored a new public safety department, which would also give the City Council more authority over public safety. Forty-one percent opposed it and 10 percent were undecided. 

A majority of voters polled said crime was rising and they didn’t want to cut the size of the city’s police force.

Black voters were less likely to support the proposed public safety department than white voters and are more concerned that cutting the police force would have a negative effect on public safety. 

Emily Koski, who beat Schroeder for a council seat Tuesday, said it was one of the main things she was asked about as she campaigned.

“I think we can draw the conclusion that our city of Minneapolis, we want police reform, but we want a plan, and we want to be sure that we can work on that plan together, and that all the voices of our community are part of that plan,” she said.

An interview with Minneapolis City Council member-elect LaTrisha Vetaw

In south Minneapolis, amendment supporter Jason Chavez captured the Ward 9 seat formerly held by Alondra Cano.

Council member Jeremiah Ellison, who supported the ballot initiative, was in a tight race for his seat late Tuesday night (On Wednesday, he was officially declared the winner). He said the incumbent council members who supported the ballot measure did so because they realized that it was the only path to real change within the Police Department.

“We supported it after years and years of realizing that without Amendment 2, reforming the police of Minneapolis is a dead end,” he said. “There is nowhere to go. And the next council will find that out as well.”

This story includes reporting from The Associated Press. MPR News reporter Matt Sepic also contributed to this report.