Minneapolis City Council looks toward recovery, possible divestment from traditional policing

Franklin & Hennepin, pictured on June 3.

Minneapolis City Council members say they want to dramatically alter the public safety system and ensure communities of color will not be displaced by damage. 

“After years of work on reform for our department, this horrible event happened, and I think that we all need to come together very quickly and make some clear next steps,” said Council President Lisa Bender, speaking Saturday at the council’s first public meeting since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The city is preparing to make budget cuts in June to handle a $165 million shortfall related to the pandemic, and police union negotiations are underway. 

Police reform is familiar ground for the council. In the 2019 and 2020 adopted budgets, the council redirected money proposed for policing into other safety strategies, including a new Office of Violence Prevention, sending outreach workers to hospitals and schools, to work with gang members, and to join police on calls related to mental health. Revised police training in recent years has added crisis intervention, implicit bias, de-escalation and “procedural justice,” or fair treatment in policing. Officers now wear body cameras. Sanctity of life became part of the stated use-of-force policy. Officers have been told they have a duty to intervene and stop another officer from applying inappropriate force. And the council commissioned further study of 911 response and police staffing this year.

“At this point I think that everything should be on the table because it is clear a piecemeal approach has not worked and many in the public have lost trust in the police department,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said in a May 29 email to constituents. 

Beyond policing, Council Member Phillipe Cunningham has advocated for a public health approach to public safety focused on violence prevention. 

“What we have seen across the country is that reform after reform effort has not produced very clear cultural change within policing institutions,” Cunningham said. 

According to Cunningham, there is no evidence that requiring officers to live within city limits improves policing services or lowers cases of police brutality. Neither with anti-bias training, nor procedural justice training, he said.

“You can go down the list of all of the various aspects of even 21st century policing, which was a part of President Obama’s administration. Those efforts have really not panned out to substantive change. … I think that it’s important for us as a city, as we look forward, to start having real conversation and real energy and political will around: What does building alternative systems of public safety outside of policing … look like?”

After the City of Minneapolis updated its use of force policy to emphasize de-escalation in 2016, incidents involving use of force declined nearly 11% in 2017, dropped an additional 8% in 2018 and held steady in 2019, according to MPD data. Since January 2017, bodily force has been the most common type of force used, most often body weight pins, followed by “takedowns” and chemical irritants. According to the data, 60% of use-of-force incidents have involved a black individual since the beginning of 2017, a statistic largely unchanged over the past decade. 

Bender said in a June 1 email that she’s hearing many residents ask the council to divest from the police department.

“I agree that we need radical change in our approach to public safety,” Bender wrote.

“The whole world is watching, and we can declare policing as we know it a thing of the past, and create a compassionate, non-violent future. It will be hard. But so is managing a dysfunctional relationship with an unaccountable armed force in our city,” Council Member Steve Fletcher wrote in a June 2 tweet. “I don’t know yet, though several of us on the council are working on finding out, what it would take to disband the MPD and start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.”

In another tweet, Fletcher alleged that “politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards.”

“After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long,” he wrote.

MPD did not respond for comment.

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said at a June 2 press conference that she wants to move funds away from the police department to alternative community strategies. Jenkins is drafting a resolution that would declare racism a public health emergency.

“I hear loudly and clearly support from within our community to disinvest in any agency or system that harms our community,” Council Member Jeremy Schroeder wrote on June 2. 

Council Member Linea Palmisano’s ideas for reform include citizen review boards with more discipline authority, a reevaluation of overtime and off-duty work, and a removal of lieutenants from union eligibility.

Goodman also highlighted the impact of the police union.

“As it turns out, the City of Minneapolis was already in negotiations regarding the police union contract,” Goodman wrote to constituents on May 29. “I saw this as an opportunity to get some important issues resolved and make drastic policy changes in that contract, but to be honest I’m not sure that working with this union and its leadership is the best path forward anymore.”

Whenever the police chief terminates an officer, that decision is overturned through arbitration 50% of the time, according to Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, speaking at the press conference. 

A letter from police union president Lt. Bob Kroll, shared by former Police Chief Janeé Harteau,  commended officers for turning “the tide of the largest-scale riot Minneapolis has ever seen.” He called efforts to minimize the force and divert funds a “terrorist movement” dating back years. He said the four officers were terminated without due process, and he will fight for their jobs.

“A disgrace to the badge,” Harteau said in a tweet sharing Kroll’s letter, which refers to Floyd’s death as “the critical incident.” Harteau, Fletcher, the AFL-CIO and other leaders and labor organizations have called for Kroll’s resignation in recent days. Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said Kroll’s advocacy of “military-style police tactics [makes] communities less safe.”

The council put out a joint statement June 2 supporting the Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ Civil Rights investigation into MPD, which would cover the past 10 years. Schroeder said he hopes the investigation will lead to change in state restrictions related to city residency requirements and limits of civilian oversight.

Council members have continued to express support for Chief Medaria Arradondo, praising his decision to fire all four officers involved. Perhaps the chief could be the architect of a new policing system, said Council Member Alondra Cano. 

At the council meeting, Arradondo offered condolences to Floyd’s friends and family. He said police are trying to distinguish those who want to honor Floyd from those who are trying to cause harm. 

“This is a different moment in time, and everyone is trying to figure it out together,” Cano said. “Nationally, the groups that typically support policing and are very, very anti-police reform are 100% not behind what happened to Mr. George Floyd. There is resounding almost consensus among all the diverse groups that deal [with] policing issues from the left to the right who are saying that was wrong, that was not OK.” 

. . .

The City Council ratified the mayor’s declaration of local emergency in effect through June 12, which allows the city to request resources and support from the state.

Well before the 3rd Precinct burned, Mayor Jacob Frey said he discussed with Chief Arradondo the concept of reducing the police footprint there. Frey said the precinct had become a symbol, and he saw an inherent tension between defending the precinct and protecting the community. 

Speaking at a May 30 emergency council meeting, Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington agreed that evacuating the precinct was the “prudent” decision, because they were at a point where they would either lose property or lose life, he said. 

Harrington said he believed the curfew helped separate peaceful protesters from a smaller subgroup of people with riotous behavior.

Some council members questioned the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. The mayor and council members have called for restraint in the police response to protests. 

“I know our city’s reeling, and I am too,” Mayor Jacob Frey said. “Trying to contain the aggression and violence and protect the residents and employees of the city with nonlethal force is a critical component.”

Ellison was the lone vote against the emergency curfew, saying that he wanted a measure of protection for law-abiding residents who are breaking curfew to protect their neighborhoods. Ellison said he’s been out at night extinguishing fires, and he helped neighbors evacuate a smoke-filled apartment building before the Fire Department arrived.

Black, Indigenous and People of Color must have the chance to remain in place where their properties were damaged, Jenkins said. 

“I know for a fact that this will be a major battle. We cannot have 25 years of no investment like the last riots that destroyed Minneapolis and cities all around the country. That has to be unacceptable, and it’s going to be incumbent on all of us to make sure that happens,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins said she’s also very concerned about food security and medical supplies, as grocers and clinics were destroyed and burned. 

The mayor plans to recommend a revised 2020 budget to the City Council June 12. The Council will hold a series of meetings in mid- and late June to make modifications. The public can weigh in during two public hearings on June 18 and June 25. Visit the city’s website to learn how to watch and participate in virtual meetings. 

“We are looking at using the budget on the June 30 vote as the first time that we as a body can very clearly send a message about the future of policing, for not only our city, but for the country,” Cano said.