Election 2021: Minneapolis Charter Amendments, Question 2 (Public Safety)

The debate over what to do about public safety and policing is far and away the most central question in pretty much every other race this year in Minneapolis, including the Park Board races. But it’s also actually on the ballot and Minneapolis residents will be able to vote Yes or No on the question of whether to create a Department of Public Safety to replace MPD.

Here’s what’s appearing on the ballot — both a question, and an explanation:

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)

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?


Explanatory Note:

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.

I support this amendment, and would vote yes.

Note: the post below includes embedded videos that show (non-lethal) police violence.

People opposed to this charter amendment, including all the candidates who are endorsed by Operation Safety Now, are in most cases very eager to reassure everyone that of course this doesn’t mean they oppose reforms:

Kevin Reich (representative of Ward 1): “We must focus on what we agree on and push for reform to create a better, more responsive, and more accountable department.” Yusra Arab (running in Ward 2): “Hold our law enforcement officers to the highest standards. That means accountability, appropriate training, and the demilitarization of our police department.” Michael Rainville (running in Ward 3): “I believe we need to reform and rebuild the department with the expert advice of Chief Arradondo.” Victor Martinez (running in Ward 5): “Support efforts to create metrics to ID troubled cops early on.” Lisa Goodman (representative of Ward 7): “Systemic change is required in how Minneapolis handles law enforcement.” Mickey Moore (running in Ward 9): “I believe in an approach to public safety that focuses on changing the culture of our city’s police department.” Chris Parson (running in Ward 10): “The Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) hasn’t been able to hold the MPD accountable for misconduct, and its powers need to be reorganized.” Alicia Gibson (also running in Ward 10: “There are two truths to this moment in Minneapolis: We need police and we need real policing reform.” Emily Koski (running in Ward 11): “We must reform our public safety system so that it works for everyone.” Nancy Ford (running in Ward 12): “I support using resources we currently have in place, such as Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) for civilian oversight of police and expanding on the COPE and Co-Responder programs to provide crisis intervention.” Linea Palmisano (representative of Ward 13): “Every person living in Minneapolis should feel safe and served by the people and programs intended to promote public safety. And right now, that’s not the case. That’s why I’m working to transform public safety in Minneapolis.”

These statements, every single one of them, echo what people have said for years. They’re the same lip service to the same set of failed policies.

Here is the key reform in the charter amendment, as I see it: the elimination of the minimum required number of police, something that’s not a requirement in any other city in Minnesota. From a former union president (of a real union, not the police union):

Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, and the civil unrest that followed, happened over a year ago. This week, the Minnesota Reformer ran an article with bodycam videos of MPD hunting Minneapolis residents, firing multiple less-lethal rounds at the owner of a gas station, and pepper-spraying a journalist.

Linda Tirado, a journalist covering the protests, was deliberately shot in the face by police, and lost an eye. “There’s no way that they could have mistaken me — with a professional camera — for anything but working press,” Tirado said in an interview later.

A crew from CNN was fired on with tear gas and less-lethal bullets while in the middle of reporting. Note that the tweet just before it in the thread is about a Minneapolis nurse who describes the police storming a first aid tent.

A Minneapolis police officer drive-by pepper-sprayed a bunch of people standing on a train station platform:

The Minneapolis Police fired less-lethal projectiles at people sitting on their own porches, watching over their own neighborhoods. They were pointlessly, indefensibly brutal towards protestors, reporters, and anyone in the City of Minneapolis who got in their way. For weeks, they treated the residents of Minneapolis with fury and contempt and unbridled rage.

And not one police officer has been disciplined for unnecessary, abusive, and in some cases permanently disabling use of force.

In fact, since Jacob Frey was elected in 2017, only five officers have been fired. One was Derek Chauvin, three will be tried on “aiding and abetting” charges next March, and one criticized the department to a reporter without permission.

If we could fix MPD with the tools we have now, without changing how the department is run, without getting rid of that minimum number of officers that gives the police federation enormous leverage during contract negotiations — if Jacob, Lisa, and Linea think this is fixable as-is — then why were none of the officers who engaged in wanton brutality in May/June 2020 disciplined? It has been over a year. This stuff happened on camera. It was committed by people who are still working as police officers. In some cases, it happened to clearly identifiable journalists while they were broadcasting! After George Floyd’s murder, the people in charge — Jacob, Chief Arradondo — should have been profoundly motivated to demonstrate that it’s possible to hold police accountable. And yet the only police officer who’s been disciplined, it was for talking to a reporter.

ETA: Jacob Frey posted to Facebook today in response to the videos released by the Minnesota Reformer, saying that you can’t talk about a disciplinary process until it’s completed, and therefore there might be discipline that’s happening and we just can’t know, and I guess we should just trust him that justice delayed will eventually, some day, who knows when, be justice received. In response to this I guess I will just note: in the year and a half since the unrest, Jaleel Stalling was charged, tried, and acquitted for his actions defending himself against the police officers who were hunting Minneapolis citizens. If the disciplinary process is that broken then maybe try some goddamn criminal charges against the police officers assaulting people on video. Also, I don’t know how you get from “a year and a half later, we can’t even tell you whether anyone’s been disciplined in any way” to “you should vote no on the charter amendment to radically reshape policing.”

So — the charter amendment.

It’s not, in fact, all that revolutionary. Here’s what it actually does.

  1. It turns the Police Department into a Department of Public Safety. The charter amendment says “which could include licensed peace officer (police officers) if necessary,” but police officers are required for certain functions by state law, so there will absolutely still be police officers. I do think it matters that they will create a Department of Public Safety, and police will be a portion of it instead of it being a Police Department.
  2. It eliminates the minimum required number of officers. That matters a lot, because it gives the Police Federation less leverage in union negotiations. There will still be plenty of pressure on City Council reps to ensure that the department is adequately staffed, but the union will not have the actual city charter saying “you must have AT LEAST this many of our people on the payroll at all times.” (And I’ll just note again: this does not exist as a thing in any other city charter in the state.)
  3. It gives oversight to the city council as well as the mayor. (As is the case for every other city department, including Emergency Management and the Fire Department.)

Some things it does not do:

  1. It doesn’t get rid of Chief Arradondo. He may leave if it passes, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that he’ll stick around regardless. He almost left for San Jose earlier this year. Also, he’s 54, and could retire with full pension at 55. Making decisions about the city charter based on one person you like is absurd on its face, and the emphasis on Arradondo from the “vote no” side shows how thin their arguments are.
  2. It doesn’t get rid of police. They’re required by state law, and even if they were not, no one on the Minneapolis City Council actually thinks that doing away with police entirely is a workable idea.
  3. It doesn’t defund the police. It means that the department size is no longer set in stone in the City Charter, but the city could choose to keep it just as large. (FYI, in 2017, Minneapolis spent 35.8% of its general fund on policing — over $163 million.)
  4. It would not “dismantle” the police department 30 days after election day, other than maybe on paper — Minneapolis could declare that it had a new Department of Public Safety but it would just be the police department for a while.

Worth noting: a whole lot of Minnesota cities already have a Department of Public Safety instead of a Police Department. It’s not like Minneapolis would be replacing it with a Department of Flowers and Happy Kittens. Departments of Public Safety are a really pretty ordinary thing to have.

Also worth noting, I have seen complaints that the City Council hasn’t announced actual plans for what the new Department of Public Safety would look like — that’s because they were forbidden from doing so by the City Attorney’s office:

I’ve heard various arguments against “14 bosses” etc. but look. The results with the single boss have not been good, actually! Other city departments may have their issues, but how many people have been murdered by Public Works or Community Planning & Economic Development? Also, right now, contract negotiations with the Police Federation happen behind closed doors, without even the City Council having access:

Also worth noting: since May and June 2020, the Minneapolis Police Department has lost a lot of officers, but they’ve also engaged in a slowdown. From a police officer quoted anonymously in the Reuters article: “Police sometimes deliberately take a longer route than necessary to respond to calls – mostly in the hope that whatever the problem was, it will be resolved by the time they arrive.” A recently retired (also anonymous) officer said that the force’s commanders encouraged the slowdown. “The supervisor was like, ‘I don’t blame you at all if you don’t want to do anything. Hang out in the station.’ That’s what they’re saying.”

This, despite the fact that the City Council has approved the money needed for overtime, for hiring and raining more officers, for basically everything MPD has asked for — so what is it they’re demanding, exactly, with their slowdown?

What enrages the Minneapolis police, from what I can tell, is that the people of Minneapolis have made it clear that they no longer see the police as the good guys. MPD is furious that they’re being treated by the citizenry they work for as a bunch of angry, dangerous bullies. They’ve treated the people of Minneapolis as the enemy for decades, but having that attitude returned is intolerable. So they’re hoping that by refusing to do their jobs, they’ll convince the citizens that they’re the lesser evil.

Passing this charter amendment is (unfortunately) not going to change all that much overnight. The public safety amendment is a step toward making change possible.

Voting “no” is a vote for the brutal status quo.

I would absolutely vote yes on this amendment.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis (and includes scenes of my imagined future of public safety). It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. My readers have now bought a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, outfitted 8th grade Algebra students at Olson Middle School with binders to stay organized, bought a 3-D printer for students at Humboldt high school in St. Paul, equipped a classroom at Whittier with an air purifier, and bought a pug mill (a clay mixer that allows you to reuse dried-out clay) for art students at Andersen United. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

The North High School librarian would like copies of We Are Not From Here for students to read in 9th grade English class.

A teacher at Green Central Elementary would like a book/curriculum set that covers “themes such as racism, cultural identity, homelessness, immigration, gender and sexuality, and social activism.”

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

Elementary teachers at Lucy LaneyJefferson, and two at Folwell, would like help providing a mid-morning snack to their students.

Two science teachers at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like learning materials for their chemistry classes: glassware and microscopes, and equipment that will allow students to “see how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

And a different kind of school fundraiser (not through DonorsChoose):

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Kaytie.Kamphoff@gmail.com. Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her whole Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.


6 thoughts on “Election 2021: Minneapolis Charter Amendments, Question 2 (Public Safety)

  1. Do you have a sense of what becomes of the police union if we pass this? Will they have a seat at the table when it comes time to design what comes next?

    I appreciate your coverage of all our local elections, including all the down-down-ballot races I’m usually Googling from the voting booth on the day. Thank you so much!

  2. I was going to vote no on the basic logic that our current system has resulted in a crueler, more racist, and more militaristic police force. It’s been getting worse with every decade I’ve lived here and piecemeal reforms go nowhere. However, I appreciate your thorough research and compelling writing SO MUCH. In particular, the importance of removing the minimum number of police officers from the charter (and the fact that no other city charter has this feature), the power it gives to the police officers’ federation, was really an eye-opener. Thanks, Naomi!

  3. Thanks for this analysis, Naomi, much appreciated! My main hesitation on this amendment stems from having read that the majority of Black residents of Mpls are against it, fearing that it will result in higher crime rates in their neighborhoods. Since Black residents bear the brunt of police brutality I feel like I should follow their lead on this. Do you have a take on this at all??

    (Btw just started reading Catfishing and it’s wonderful. Buying it for my nieces and nephews!)

    • I can’t answer for Naomi, but… people who are against this are mostly just misinformed, in the sense of not understanding what the amendment actually does. It’s easy for people to be misinformed.

      All this amendment really does in practice: it removes the *special, unique* provisions which force the city to give excessive power to the existing dirty police gangs; and it gives the city council more power to actually oversee any police. If you trust the elected city council more than you trust the dirty police gangs, you should support this.

      The current police gangs are picking and choosing when to enforce the laws and when to break the law. They are a *problem*.

      The amendment frankly is less of an action than the scaremongering opponents have made it out to be — and less of an action than some of its proponents have made it out to be too. It’s removing some shackles on the city council’s oversight of police — that’s all.

      The rhetoric has been somewhat inaccurate, and that may have led to people being afraid of the amendment due to scaremongering.

      The only group who opposes the amendment *and actually knows what it does* are the dirty racist police gangs and their supporters, because they want to continue to have guaranteed minimum numbers of gangsters embedded in the police department. Most of the opposition has been driven by dishonest campaigning, in my opinion.

  4. I think that the “14 bosses” talking point embeds one of those classic misconceptions that is very common. It’s in the same genre as “government should be run like a business.” Governments are not businesses, their goals are different, their structure is different, and the metrics by which you judge them should be different. Having the department answer to the City Council will not, in any meaningful sense, be the same as having 14 bosses. The City Council would be acting as an oversight body, not as front-line management. And having more people involved in might well, certainly should, produce greater transparency. I mean, it’s a great talking point, it’s got real emotional punch, but it just isn’t what is going on. It’s the wrong conceptual framework.

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