Election 2020: Charter Amendments & Police Reform

In Minnesota, a lot of cities have charters. Your city charter is sort of the constitution by which your city is run. Ordinances can be changed fairly easily, by having the City Council vote; in order to amend a City Charter, you need a referendum. (This is not entirely true — noncontroversial stuff can just be approved by the City Council. But a lot of stuff requires votes.)

I’ve written about the Minneapolis City Charter a couple of times. In 2018, there was an amendment to revise liquor licensing laws. More notably, in 2013, the whole charter got a massive revision. The Charter Commission rewrote it in modern English instead of archaic legalese and took out all the bits that had been superceded by other bits. This had to go to two referendum votes (which were on the same ballot), because passing anything related to alcohol requires a larger majority, and they agreed that having most of it in modern English but reverting abruptly to archaic legalese whenever alcohol was mentioned would still be an overall improvement. (Both pieces passed.) Nothing about the rules was actually changed in 2013 — the goal was not to fix the rules (many of which are overly fiddly and very much something that should be in the ordinances, not the charter), it was to fix the problem where people couldn’t even figure out what the rules were because the charter was such an overall unreadable mess.

By chance, the section I pulled out in 2013 to illustrate the difference between the old charter and the new charter is the one under discussion right now. Here’s the current version:

7.3. Police
(a) Police department. The Mayor has complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the police department. The Mayor may make all rules and regulations and may promulgate and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department. Except where the law vests an appointment in the department itself, the Mayor appoints and may discipline or discharge any employee in the department (subject to the Civil Service Commission’s rules, in the case of an employee in the classified service).

(1) Police chief.
(A) Appointment. The Mayor nominates and the City Council appoints a police chief under section 8.4(b).
(B) Term. The chief’s term is three years.
(C) Civil service. The chief serves in the unclassified service, but with the same employee benefits (except as to hiring and removal) as an officer in the classified service. If a chief is appointed from the classified service, then he or she is treated as taking a leave of Revised Charter 30 Proposed 1 May 2013
absence while serving as chief, after which he or she is entitled to return to his or her permanent grade in the classified service. If no vacancy is available in that grade, then the least senior employee so classified returns to his or her grade before being so classified.
(D) Public health. The chief must execute the City Council’s orders relating to the preservation of health.
(2) Police officers. Each peace officer appointed in the police department must be licensed as required by law. Each such licensed officer may exercise any lawful power that a peace officer enjoys at common law or by general or special law, and may execute a warrant anywhere in the county.
(b) Temporary police. The Mayor may, in case of riot or other emergency, appoint any necessary temporary police officer for up to one week. Each such officer must be a licensed peace officer.
(c) Funding. The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation, for which purpose it may tax the taxable property in the City up to 0.3 percent of its value annually. This tax is in addition to any other tax, and not subject to the maximum set under section 9.3(a)(4).

“The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation” is a rule that makes it extremely difficult to do meaningful police reform. If we want real change, a charter amendment is needed. Here’s the full text of what the City Council is proposing. The whole policing section above is replaced with the following:

§ 7.3. Police Community Safety and Violence Prevention.
(a) Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. The City Council must establish, maintain, adequately fund, and consistently engage the public about a department of community safety and violence prevention, which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.
(1) Director of Community Safety and Violence Prevention Department. The Mayor nominates and the City Council appoints a director of the department of community safety and violence prevention under section 8.4(b). Individuals eligible to be appointed as director will have non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.
(b) Division of Law Enforcement Services. The Council 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.
(1) Director of Law Enforcement Services Division. The director of the department of community safety and violence prevention shall appoint the director of the division of law enforcement services, subject to confirmation by official act of the City Council and Mayor.

However, in order for Minneapolis residents to be able to vote on this, the Charter Commission has to put it on the ballot, and that’s something they have to do by early August.

From the WedgeLive article:

Written comments can be submitted here. Instructions for how to participate by phone in the July 15 virtual public hearing will be available here once the meeting notice has been posted.

If this is something you want, make your voice heard. And note that this is not, in fact, a proposal to abolish all policing; instead, it would allow the city to choose to spend less money on a bunch of suburban bullies with guns to solve problems that they’re unequipped (by training, temperament, or inclination) to deal with. And hey, maybe this means that on occasions when there is something a bunch of armed people are needed to deal with, they’ll actually fucking show up? (“John Elder, a Minneapolis police spokesperson, said officers were simultaneously handling two other shootings in which a total of eight people were wounded.” There are 800 officers in the MPD. It’s super weird that apparently they were so overwhelmed by two shootings that they couldn’t send anyone to a shooting-in-progress where a bunch of kids were in danger!)

(There are 425,403 people in Minneapolis. 0.0017 police department employees per resident = 723. There are 800 sworn officers plus 300 civilian employees. So even if this doesn’t pass, we could, in fact, drastically cut the budget under the current charter and redirect money towards things that are not cops. I don’t think that’s the ideal situation, and the situation with that shooting at Jordan Park illustrates why. “Oh, we would have liked to respond to a shooting-in-progress at a park full of kids, but gosh golly we were just too busy” is unmitigated steaming horseshit, and their blithe expectation that everyone just swallow it is exactly why this department can’t be reformed, it has to be fucking eliminated. If there are any non-rotten apples in the MPD barrel, maybe we can recruit them for the law enforcement division of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.)

Anyway. Want to be able to vote on this in November? Send in a written comment and watch for the opportunity to attend (virtually) the hearing.

 

3 thoughts on “Election 2020: Charter Amendments & Police Reform

  1. Hi Naomi, I wondered if you had any thoughts between the “must”/”may” distinction in the proposed text?

    “7.3(a) The City Council must establish” vs “7.3(b) The Council may maintain a division”

    I have read elsewhere that members of the council (like Steve Fletcher) have publicly stated (although I can’t find a primary source on this) that they’re going to use the “may” in (b) to basically not have a law enforcement division (LED) and outsource that work (to ??) instead. I wholeheartedly agree with the need to blow up the rat’s nest that is the MPD and reallocate funds to better solutions, but it seems as though at least some of that vision should include a limited LED for the few types of situations where that sort of presence is still needed.

    • I’m in favor of “may” over “must” here, because the City Council is not going to eliminate all law enforcement of any kind next year, and I like the idea of maximizing the flexibility for solving the essential problem where occasionally there’s an incident that genuinely requires an armed response. (The likely “outsource” solution would be the County Sheriff’s office, I think.)

  2. Hi Naomi,

    Thanks for the post. I have a question that’s a little unrelated to your post: I’m asking because you seem really knowledgeable about the Charter Amendment process. I’m a little confused about how much power the Charter Commission actually has.

    In the “Amending the Charter” section (www2.minneapolismn.gov/charter/amendment-process) under subsection (3)5, it says the “Commission may either approve or reject the proposed amendment referred by the City Council, or it may offer a substitute amendment of its own design” and the “Commission submits its recommendation to the Council.”

    Then under subsection (3)6, it says: “After receiving the recommendation of the Charter Commission, the City Council must decide whether to forward its original proposed amendment or the substitute provided by the Charter Commission (if any) to the voters. The City Council is not bound by the recommendation of the Charter Commission.”

    So, does the Charter Commission actually have any power to bar us from voting on the City Council’s original amendment? The Charter Commission can delay so we don’t vote in November, but that seems like that’s all they can really do. The City Council can just choose to go ahead with the original amendment, regardless of what the Charter Commission says, right?

    Thanks,
    Logan

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