Push to disband Minneapolis police fails despite calls for reform after George Floyd death

Push to disband Minneapolis police fails despite calls for
reform after George Floyd death 1

A push to disband the Minneapolis police department failed Tuesday for the second time since George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide calls for police reform.

Minneapolis residents voted not to replace the city’s police department – which is facing a federal investigation – with a new Department of Public Safety that would have likely included law enforcement, 911 responders and mental health professionals. 

More than 56% of voters rejected the measure with 96% of precincts reporting as of 10 p.m. EST.

The proposal would have amended the city’s charter to remove the requirement that the city have a police department with a minimum level of funding and staffing.

The ballot question sharply divided the community, and activists worry the vote could further drain momentum from the national police reform movement sparked by Floyd’s death as talks stall in Congress.

Organizers said it would have given the public and city council more control over law enforcement and prevented police from responding to calls where they aren’t needed. But opponents feared the amendment would take police off the streets and criticized the plan’s lack of specificity.

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Those opponents celebrated the defeat and stressed the need to reform the city’s policing without it.

“Tonight is a victory for sanity and common sense in Minneapolis,” said Bill Rodriguez, co-founder of opposition group Operation Safety Now. “Of course there’s work to do on how we approach public safety, but the notion that we can do it without police, or with a skeleton crew of officers, is fantasy.”

Leili Fatehi, manager of the All of Mpls campaign, said the vote made it clear residents “want a planful approach to transforming policing and public safety in our city that needs to include meaningful consultation with the communities that are most impacted by both violent crime and by over-policing.”

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Supporters say charter issue needs to be revisited

A majority of City Council members first promised to dismantle the police department in June 2020, but their amendment never made it onto the ballot. The council proposed another plan in January but later withdrew it to avoid confusion among voters when Yes 4 Minneapolis proposed this new measure, said Steve Fletcher, a member of the council.

Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of dozens of local groups, acquired more than 20,000 signatures to get the charter amendment on the ballot and raised more than $1 million. 

Minnesota’s best known progressives – U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison – supported the Yes 4 Minneapolis plan. 

A volunteer urges community members to vote yes on ballot question two outside of a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis. Voters in Minneapolis are deciding whether to replace the city's police department with a new Department of Public Safety. The election comes more than a year after George Floyd's death launched a movement to defund or abolish police across the country.

JaNaé Bates, a campaign spokesperson, said supporters will continue working to reform the police department, which has “well documented history of abuse, mistrust and sometimes murder.”

The Justice Department and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights are investigating the policies and practices of the department, a review that could result in changes. 

Bates acknowledged that some of the organizers who campaigned against the proposal have good ideas for reforms, but said the measures won’t be effective unless the charter is changed.

“Maintaining the status quo by voting no means that we’ll continue to have a city that will devolve,” Bates said. 

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Opponents criticize plan’s lack of detail

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and at least two community groups opposed the plan and criticized its lack of detail, which organizers said was intentional.

Frey, who is up for reelection, said the proposal would have caused the city to lose officers it needs and that sharing power with the City Council over the department would have diluted accountability.  

“There are no police reforms built into this charter amendment.” Frey told the USA TODAY Network. “There are no items of reform, police reform, policy change or accountability built into this.”

FILE - Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey addresses the media on Wednesday Feb. 17, 2021 in Minneapolis. Frey announced a sweeping set of public safety proposals that he said would make all neighborhoods in the city safe, while holding police officers accountable. The proposals were announced Monday, May 17, 2021 after a particularly violent weekend during which a 9-year-old girl was shot in the head in a north Minneapolis neighborhood. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP, Pool) ORG XMIT: MNMIT210

Medaria Arradondo, who became the city’s first Black police chief in 2017, urged voters to reject the ballot question last week, saying it would do nothing to address the issues highlighted by Floyd’s death.

“To vote on a measure of reimagining public safety without a solid plan and an implementation or direction of work – this is too critical of a time to wish and hope for that help that we need so desperately right now,” he told reporters.

Although Yes 4 Minneapolis leaders said the new public safety department would have included police officers, opponents including Rodriguez, believed the ultimate goal was to scrap the city’s police department altogether.

Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl said while the ballot question would have erased the department on paper, it would not have eliminated police officers’ jobs or the police union “because they exist under state and federal law.”

What’s next for the police department?

The city council will vote Dec. 8 on a budget proposed by Frey that would restore the department’s funding to nearly $192 million, almost the same amount it was before Floyd’s death. Last December, City Council unanimously approved a budget that shifted $8 million from the police department toward violence prevention and other services.

Frey’s plan would also boost staffing by as many as 150 officers. The department, like others nationwide, lost hundreds of officers who quit, retired or took disability leave after last year’s protests.

On another ballot question, more than 52% of residents voted to give the mayor clearer authority over day-to-day government operations. More than 52% also approved a third measure to enact rent control. 

Contributing: The Associated Press, Eric Ferkenhoff, USA TODAY Network

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