Majority of city council commits to disbanding Minneapolis Police Department, replace it with community-based public safety model
At a protest Sunday afternoon, part of the overwhelming national response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, nine of the 12-member Minneapolis City Council voiced their support for disbanding the city’s police department and replacing it with a community-based public safety model. The committed council members make up a veto-proof supermajority, meaning the mayor cannot overturn the decision he’s gone on record as opposing.
Addressing the crowd in Powderhorn Park, Council President Lisa Bender said it was time the city ends its relationship with its police department, and instead seek input from the community to create a different model for public safety, the city’s Fox affiliate reports. What that model looks like isn’t immediately clear, but Bender said she feels it’s necessary because the current system is fundamentally broken.
“In Minneapolis and in cities across the U.S., it is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” Bender said, per The Guardian. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period. Our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe and to tell the truth: that the Minneapolis police are not doing that. Our commitment is to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”
This sentiment that the department – long accused of unchecked racism, according to The New York Times – was echoed by community organizers and protestors alike. From the stage, Kandace Montgomery, the director of Black Visions Collective said, “It shouldn’t have taken so much death to get us here… We’re safer without armed, unaccountable patrols supported by the state hunting black people.”
While the next steps are unclear, Bender told CNN she envisions the change happening gradually. “The idea of having no police department is certainly not in the short term,” she told the news outlet. Other councilors have said some changes might include sending mental health professionals or social workers to certain emergencies that were in the past handled by police, the Star Tribune reports.
The move is, of course, controversial. Notably among its critics is the city’s Mayor, Jacob Frey. While he says he supports sweeping police reform, he does not support disbanding the department wholesale. In a statement, Frey said the following, per Fox 9:
“I’ll work relentlessly with Chief Arradondo and alongside community toward deep, structural reform and addressing systemic racism in police culture. And we’re ready to dig in and enact more community-led, public safety strategies on behalf of our city. But I do not support abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department.”
The idea is also unpopular among law enforcement in Anoka County, in which a portion of Minneapolis is situated. Sheriff James Stuart said Sunday his agency has “no appetite” for working in the city should its municipal department be disbanded, according to MN News.
“The members of the Minneapolis City Council should be mindful that numerous other law enforcement agencies have responded to support them, to restore order, to protect their citizens and to return peace to their city during recent tragic days,” Stuart wrote in a Facebook post. “There are clearly concerns to be addressed and areas to be fixed. However, if they choose to eliminate their police department through defunding operations without a realistic plan, they must also choose to live with the consequences of their decisions.
Should the council continue with its effort to disband the police department, the path is anything but clear cut. According to Fox 9, the city charter dictacts the council is responsible for funding the department and maintaining a minimum force based on the city’s population – or approximately 723 officers. Currently, there are approximately 800 sworn officers and 300 civilian employees, according to city materials.
To change the charter, an amendment would need to pass requiring a public vote or the full approval of the council along with the mayor – an unlikely outcome given the mayor’s current stance, Fox 9 reports.
“We might have to take it to the people to have a vote on it, but I think there are a lot of ways in which the council can move forward with the plan even if the mayor isn’t on board,” Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, who supports the defunding effort, told the TV station.