MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis city council on Friday unanimously approved a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled, following widespread criticism of law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.
The 12-0 vote is just the first step in a process that faces significant bureaucratic obstacles to make the November ballot, where the city’s voters would have the final say. And it came amid a spate of recent shootings in Minnesota’s largest city that have heightened many citizens’ concerns about talk of dismantling the department.
The proposed amendment next goes to a policy committee and to the city’s Charter Commission for a formal review, at which point citizens and city officials can also weigh in.
“I hope that the Charter Commission will recognize the moment that we are in and take our offer of support, however we can provide it, to expedite this process so that voters have a chance to have their voices heard on this important question and this important moment in our city’s history,” Council President Lisa Bender said.
The Minneapolis force has come under heavy pressure since Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Activists have long accused the department of being unable to change a racist and brutal culture, and earlier this month, a majority of the council proclaimed support for dismantling the department.
Jeremiah Ellison, a member of the council, said before the vote that the charter has been a barrier to the kinds of changes that citizens have demanded.
According to draft language posted online, the amendment would replace the department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, “which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”
The amendment goes on to say the director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” It also provides for a division of licensed peace officers who would answer to the department’s director.
The Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents over 10,000 law enforcement officers, called the vote a “haphazard effort to dismantle the police department” that will create “an unsafe environment” without sufficient resources to prevent crime.
A leading activist group, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, said the amendment lacks teeth and would leave power in the hands of the council and mayor’s office, which it said have failed for decades to control the police. The coalition instead supports putting the department under community control via a new elected civilian council with the power to hire, fire and prosecute officers.
Council members who support the change wanted to seize on a groundswell of support for significant policing changes following Floyd’s death. If they don’t get the charter change on the November ballot, their next chance won’t come until November 2021, they say.
Barry Clegg, chairman of the Charter Commission, said the process feels rushed.