Election 2021: One More Post on Public Safety (and Question 2 in Minneapolis)

I got an e-mail after my earlier post on public safety from someone who suggested that it would be helpful to make a positive case for what I think it should look like, since one of the objections is the lack of a mapped-out plan. Just to be clear, before I start: I am not an expert on this, I’m not someone who would be called in to help write a plan, and there are a lot of people who are experts who would be involved in writing a plan.

Given that caveat, a couple of thoughts.

Until the 1960s, some cities didn’t have ambulances.

This was one of those fascinating things I learned from Twitter (that someone else learned from a podcast); here’s an article about it. From that article:

Emergency services were not there to provide treatment at the scene or even necessarily on the way to the hospital… they were just about getting you to the hospital as quickly as possible.  It also wasn’t clear whose responsibility it was to rush to the scene of an accident. Oftentimes firefighters were the ones to respond, and they were expected to deal with health treatment themselves. In other areas, the responsibility for transporting patients often fell to local funeral homes. In many major cities, this crucial task fell to another municipal service that probably had even less business responding to medical emergencies: The police.

The police in many cities would literally take people to the hospital in the back of a paddy wagon! In Pittsburgh, the city ambulance service was created by a Black-run jobs training program called Freedom House, in a Black neighborhood, in cooperation with Dr. Peter Safar, an anesthesiologist who went on to basically create the idea of critical-care emergency medicine.

The idea of a city without an ambulance service is literally unthinkable now. But when the Freedom House ambulance service started, the police viewed them as competition:

The police felt like Freedom House had taken their jobs away, but Freedom House believed that the police — with their poor training — were a threat to the patient. Moon says that Freedom House would have a police scanner on to monitor the calls and would try to get to emergency situations before the police did to make sure care was given properly. Sometimes the police would relent, but other times they would threaten the paramedics with arrest unless they backed off.

What don’t we have today, that in twenty years could feel as absurd as not having ambulances? I can tell you that the concept of having mental health specialists respond to people in mental health crisis has been suggested since at least the late 1990s (probably longer, but I specifically remember an incident in the late 90s or early 2000s that set off a “why don’t we deal better with mental health crises” conversation that did not, in fact, result in mental health specialists being available to deal with people having mental health crises.)

Police get called for noise complaints. For conflicts between neighbors. They show up for entirely medical ambulance calls — sometimes even usefully. They get called on kids selling hot dogs. That story had a happy “police help kid get business permit” ending but why are armed officers of the law the people sent in response to a business operating without a permit?

What if, in response to conflicts between neighbors, we could send out a mediator? What if, if you wanted a wellness check for someone you were worried about, the city could send out someone who would check on them, then help connect them with services? What if, when you needed to report a crime for insurance purposes — to file an official statement of “someone broke into my garage and stole my bike” — the person who showed up had a clipboard instead of a gun?

I mean, in the late 1960s, the idea that you might have special people, with their own uniforms and training, just for the part where you drove people to the hospital — that was new. And the police resisted the idea! But putting resources into ambulances and trained paramedics was a transformative shift in public safety.

When all you have is a hammer, and the hammer isn’t fixing the problem, adding more hammers is probably not going to improve anything.

I read this fascinating Mother Jones article this morning. It discusses two incidents where police were called on a person who was sleeping or unconscious in his car, with a gun visible. In both cases, the initial call made was not “this person is a danger,” it was absolutely “I am worried that this person is in danger.” In the 2021 case (which didn’t end in the police shooting the guy! progress!) he’d crashed his car — it looked to the caller like he’d lost consciousness at the wheel.

And yet instead of treating this as a medical emergency, this was treated as a potential threat. Someone in the neighborhood recognized the unconscious man, and managed to reach his mother, who came and was (eventually) granted permission to try to wake him. His mother, in the article, commented, “I just couldn’t believe there were so many police with just one person” — “Three police vehicles blocked in Jones’ car. Five officers were positioned behind one cruiser. Another kept a gun trained on the hatchback from the turret of the BearCat.”

The police response to any situation they’re not sure how to handle is “add more police,” whether that makes any sort of sense or not. This was for one unconscious guy. Who had a gun in his lap that was illegal for him to own, but I don’t think the legality of the gun was a major factor here.

I do actually sympathize with the essential problem here, which was, “we don’t know if he’ll wake up, freak out, and start shooting.” This almost never happens — but there is, in fact, a local case where a police officer responded to a call of someone sleeping in a car and got shot. (In 1994, Ron Ryan Jr. checked on a sleeping man after a neighbor called. Guy Harvey Baker shot him as he walked back to his squad car to run Baker’s ID. Baker fled, then during the manhunt later murdered a second police officer along with his dog. This is a good illustration of why police paranoia about unknown people with guns is not entirely unreasonable.)

But the essential question in this case seems to me not “how do we get police to respond better,” it’s “in a medical emergency where we’re worried about the safety of the EMTs, how can we keep the EMTs safe?” Because this was a medical call. (One of the things I kept thinking about, reading the story, was that the ultimately peaceful — peaceful-ish — resolution was contingent on him waking up and following the instructions of the police. If he’d actually been un-rouseable due to lifethreatening hypoglycemia, or a heart attack, or a drug overdose, he’d have just died in the car while the police yelled at him to wake up.)

This actually seems like a legit use for those robot dogs with the grabber hands — if you can send a robot dog to open up someone’s car and grab the gun, and the guy wakes up and shoots the robot, you’re out a robot. (And let’s face it, if you woke up and saw one of these things climbing into your car, I wouldn’t blame you’d for shooting it.) But I’d much rather equip ambulance crews and mental health responders with robots to secure the scene, as an alternative to police, rather than equipping police with robots.

Policing in the US is a pretty classic example of the “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem, and the stories that result range from a comedy of errors to absolutely horrifying. Maybe instead of saying “we need to take these people, the ones we equip with guns, clubs, tasers, pepper spray, and tactical vests, and train them to do things other than use force” we should send different people. People with different equipment and different training.

There’s an awful lot of low-hanging fruit here.

There are so many civic roles that we have handed to the police that could be done a different way or by someone else. This article has a good graphic that shows you the percent of time police officers in Philadelphia spend on various tasks. It also quotes a former police officer:

“When I was an officer, I got calls about dead animals, ungovernable children who refused to go to school, people who hadn’t gotten their welfare checks, adults who hadn’t heard from their elderly relatives, families who needed to be informed of a death, broken-down cars, you name it,” says Seth Stoughton, a legal scholar at the University of South Carolina and former Tallahassee police officer. “Everything that isn’t dealt with by some other institution automatically defaults to the police to take care of.”

Right now, Minneapolis’s charter (which is a lot harder to change than the ordinances) not only specifies a structure for a police department, it requires a minimum of 17 police department employees per 1000 residents. Eliminating that minimum is one of the biggest changes in the public safety charter amendment, and it will allow the city to try shifting funds to have other people handle traffic accidents, property crime, derelict vehicles, truant schoolkids, embezzlement, and so on. If we cut down what we expect police to handle to the violent crimes with a sideline in “showing up for a call only to find out that nothing’s happening” (the biggest box on that chart above! and sadly I see no way around that one) could we have a city with a lot fewer cops? I really think that would be an option.

There are absolutely people with a more radical vision than me.

There are people who say “abolish police” and mean it, and mean that it should happen right now. There are other people who say “abolish police” and mean that as a long-term goal — they view crime as being overwhelmingly caused by societal ills (and certainly there are a lot of fixable contributing factors).

But you don’t have to be on board with abolition to support Question 2 in Minneapolis (the Public Safety charter amendment). All the charter amendment will actually change is the following:

  • It will replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety. Initially, the Department of Public Safety will look and work like the Police Department, but it will be possible to make changes via the ordinances.
  • It will get rid of the minimum number of police per Minneapolis resident, a rule that does not exist in any other city or town in Minnesota.
  • The Department of Public Safety will be overseen the same way as all other city departments, rather than answering solely to the mayor.

The amendment will open the door to further change — but all that future change is contingent on the City Council agreeing that these changes are a good idea. Radical changes will require a majority of City Council reps to buy in, which is part of why the scaremongering from groups like “Heroes PAC” is so patently absurd. The most radical people on the ballot, if you actually look at their plans, are talking about things like a gradual decrease in armed law enforcement while building capacity in other ways.

I feel like the argument we’ve been having for the last year and a half is about whether we need to keep spending all our money on hammers, or if maybe it would be okay to explore the possibility of investing in a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, a pair of pliers, and a tape measure.

I really hope Minneapolis votes Yes on Question 2.

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. Some that are worth your consideration:

In Minneapolis:

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.

A middle school teacher at Andersen would like to provide her students with some manga they’ve requested; they currently don’t have a media center, and students rely on classroom libraries for books.

A second-grade teacher at Folwell would like to provide her students with graphic novels in both Spanish and English. (A large percentage of her students speak Spanish at home.)

And a different kind of school fundraiser (again, in Minneapolis):

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 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.


Election 2021: Minneapolis Mayoral Race. Kate, Sheila, Jacob.

I left this one for last because of all the races, it’s the one that you’re going to have the least trouble finding information about.

There are seventeen people running for mayor of Minneapolis, most of whom will be dropped after the first ballot. I wrote about fourteen of them in another post. The three people with a strong chance of winning:

Jacob Frey
Sheila Nezhad
Kate Knuth

tl;dr don’t rank Jacob. Vote either Kate/Sheila or Sheila/Kate. I’m going to talk about what I see as their distinctive strengths but I’m not going to tell you how to rank them; I am endorsing both.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation

The Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation has six members: only two are elected directly to the BET. The others are the Mayor, the City Council President, another City Council rep, and a Park Board rep. The BET sets the tax levy for the city — basically, they decide how much all of city government is going to cost, and it’s the cost is split up based on the value of property you own. You can play around with the property tax estimator if you’re curious what other people’s bills look like. The BET can also sell city bonds.

BET Candidate Pine Salica has a more detailed explanation of what the BET does on their site. Here’s the city’s page with their explanation.

On the ballot:

Pine Salica
Steve Brandt
Samantha Pree-Stinson
Kevin Nikiforakis

Minneapolis will be electing two people to the BET, but you get to rank three on your ballot. Here’s the MPR video explaining how ranked-choice voting works in a multi-seat race.

tl;dr I would go with #1 Pine Salica, #2 Samantha Pree-Stinson, #3 Steve Brandt. I feel the strongest about Pine; this post took as long as it did because I’ve been waffling about Steve vs. Sam, so read on for more.

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Election 2021: The Rent Control Questions (Minneapolis and Saint Paul)

Rent control / rent stabilization is on the ballot in both cities this fall. In Minneapolis, they’re seeking permission to write a rent control ordinance. In St. Paul, there’s a specific proposal.

In Minneapolis, it’s City Question 3 and reads as follows:

CITY QUESTION 3 (Minneapolis)

Authorizing City Council to Enact Rent Control Ordinance

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis, with the general nature of the amendments being indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note:
This amendment would:
1. Authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis by ordinance.
2. Provide that an ordinance regulating rents on private residential property could be enacted in two different and independent ways:
a. The City Council may enact the ordinance.
b. The City Council may refer the ordinance as a ballot question to be decided by the voters for approval at an election. If more than half of the votes cast on the ballot question are in favor of its adoption, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the election, or at such other time as provided in the ordinance.

In Saint Paul, it’s City Question 1 (it’s the only city question on the ballot) and reads as follows:


Whether To Adopt a Residential Rent Stabilization Ordinance

Should the City adopt the proposed Ordinance limiting rent increases? The Ordinance limits residential rent increases to no more than 3% in a 12-month period, regardless of whether there is a change of occupancy. The Ordinance also directs the City to create a process for landlords to request an exception to the 3% limit based on the right to a reasonable return on investment. A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of limiting rent increases. A “no” vote is a vote against limiting rent increases.

tl;dr — I would vote yes in Minneapolis, but I’m going to vote no in St. Paul.

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Election 2021: Saint Paul School Board

Saint Paul is having a school board election this year. There are four seats: three in the regular election for four-year terms, and one in a special election for a two-year term (this time because someone moved away). They’re being voted on separately. (They’re all on this year’s ballot, just to be clear, but there will be separate sections for the four-year seats and the two-year seat.)

On the ballot for the four-year seat:

Uriah Ward (DFL-endorsed)
Jennifer McPherson
Ryan Williams
Jim Vue
Halla Henderson (DFL-endorsed)
James Farnsworth

On the ballot for the special election (the two-year seat):

Jeannie Foster
Clayton Howatt (DFL-endorsed)

I am planning to vote for Jim Vue, Halla Henderson, and James Farnsworth in the regular election, Jeannie Foster in the special election.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Question 1, the “Strong Mayor” charter amendment

Here’s the question as it will appear on the ballot:

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)

Government Structure: Executive Mayor – Legislative Council

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?

There is no explanatory note.

tl;dr: I would vote no.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 13

With this post, I’m done with the City Council races! Still to come: the Minneapolis Mayoral race, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Strong Mayor charter amendment, the Rent Stabilization charter amendment, St. Paul School board, their Rent Stabilization charter amendment, and … possibly another post on public safety? ::checks calendar:: better make this one fast, I guess.

On the ballot for Ward 13:

Linea Palmisano (incumbent, DFL, DFL endorsed)
Mike Norton (DFL)
Kati Medford (Green)
Ken Salway (Republican)
Bob Reuer (Independent)

That’s kind of a startling amount of party diversity for a Minneapolis City Council race.

tl;dr: #1 Mike Norton, #2 Kati Medford.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 7

I keep saying “I’m going to do this one quickly and just get it DONE” and then getting sucked down another rabbit hole. Anyway, I’m going to try to do this one quickly and just get it done.

On the ballot:

Lisa Goodman (DFL, incumbent, DFL-endorsed)
Teqen Zéa-Aida (DFL)
Joanna Diaz (DFL)
Nick Kor (DFL)

tl;dr vote for Nick Kor as your #1. I would also list Teqen Zéa-Aida as my #2.

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 6

Ward 6 includes Cedar-Riverside and several other neighborhoods with a lot of immigrants. It’s currently represented by Jamal Osman, who won a special election in 2020 to replace Abdi Warsame after he resigned to lead the city’s Public Housing Authority instead. There were twelve candidates a year ago; now there are two. Abdirizak Bihi was also on last year’s ballot. (He was dropped on the second ballot. AK Hassan made it one more round, then AJ Awed made it one more round past that. Both Hassan and Awed are running for other offices this year — Hassan to be re-elected to the Park Board, Awed for mayor.)

This has been an extremely strange year to learn the job of City Council rep. Jamal Osman notes that he has not yet gone to an in-person City Council meeting.

On the ballot:

Jamal Osman (DFL)
Abdirizak Bihi (DFL)

Neither has the DFL endorsement.

tl;dr after a whole lot of waffling I decided on Osman, but I think undecided voters should read the post to see if they agree with me. ETA: after some late-breaking news I’m going to say I have no idea who I’d vote for. (For a full update you can scroll down to the boldfaced “I AM NOT SURE WHERE TO EVEN START.”)

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Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 10

This is an open seat; Lisa Bender is not running again.

On the ballot:

Alicia Gibson (DFL)
Katie Jones (DFL)
Chris Parsons (DFL)
Aisha Chughtai (DFL)
David Wheeler (DFL)
Ubah Nur (DFL)

No one has the DFL endorsement.

tl;dr — Katie Jones and Aisha Chughtai in some order, 1 and 2.

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