MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minneapolis City Council has taken another step in the process toward dismantling the city’s police department, following the death of George Floyd.

An ordinance has been introduced to remove the requirement for a police department from the city charter. The vote was unanimous, 12-0.

One after another, council members made suggestions on creating a new kind of police department, with more community input and different kinds of non-armed responders to domestic or mental health calls.

“We have committed to a community engagement process which is only just beginning. This vote, if it’s on the ballot in November, as I hope it is, gives the voters a chance to check in in the middle of that engagement process to tell us we are on the right track. I believe that’s the right thing for us to do, put it to the voters of Minneapolis to make this change,” council member Steve Fletcher said.

The charter amendment calls instead for “a department of community safety and violence prevention.” It also includes a provision for licensed law enforcement officers.

“As a charter department, the director would be nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council. The director would have non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches,” the council reported in a press release.

Mayor Jacob Frey spoke out Friday about the vote, and voiced his support of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

“This amendment to our city charter does not provide clarity. There are more questions I have regarding this amendment than answers,” Frey said. “I am standing by the chief. To the extent this demotes him, relieves him of power, makes it more difficult for him, because he has to report to 14 people, a structural change made without community engagement, I think that’s all a problem.”

The mayor says he believes change is deeply needed and he and the chief have a plan to rebuild the current department.

The ordinance was reported to be authored by council members Jeremiah Ellison, Alondra Cano, Cam Gordon, Steve Fletcher and Council President Lisa Bender. Click here to read the full text of the amendment.

The council seeks community input on how the system would respond to non-violent incidents, and after a lengthy legislative process, the charter amendment would go to a city-wide vote in November.

“We can change the name of public safety, the makeup, but until we really address racism, nothing is going to change,” council vice-president Andrea Jenkins said.

There will be a public virtual session for any residents to chime in on July 8.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis responded, saying the following:

“Public safety is a primary role of city government and the politicians in charge of the Minneapolis City Council are not putting the safety of residents and visitors to the city at the core of their actions. This charter amendment fails to clarify questions about what replaces the police department, how it will work, and what actual steps will be done to address and prevent crime.

“It is irresponsible and a disservice to all Minneapolis residents to move forward without more clarity about what comes next. The members of the Minneapolis Police Department are committed to serve with honor and integrity, and stand ready to work with city leaders to improve community safety and trust, but this proposal leaves too many essential questions unanswered.

“Politicians are good at making promises, but not at following through on them, and voters should be wary of any promises that delivered by the City Council about how they will figure it out when and if the charter amendment passes.”

Council President Lisa Bender says part of the plan is to build on the city’s existing violence prevention work.

“Really interrupting violence before it starts and helping community members who have experienced violence recover and get back on track,” she said.

Bender says there would still be police officers, but it’s too early to know how many.

When asked about the recent gun violence in Minneapolis, Bender said it’s troubling, and that the national stress is influencing the local situation.

The 15-member City Charter Commission will take up a review of the proposed amendment. There will be at least two public meetings in July.

They have 150 days to give the council a recommendation, but if they use the full allotted time, it would be too late to get the amendment proposal on November’s ballot.

Barry Clegg, the chair of the Commission, says it’s his goal to finish while there’s still time for 2020. In that case, some form of the amendment would almost surely go to the voters.

“Even if the Charter Commission rejects [the amendment], the city council can nevertheless go ahead and put it on the ballot,” Clegg said.

Bender says Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is the right person for the job.

The first Charter Commission meeting is Wednesday, July 1 at 4 p.m.

David Schuman

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