Minneapolis voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to replace the city’s police department with a Department of Public Safety, The Associated Press projected. The result is a blow to the nationwide movement to overhaul policing spurred by the police killing of George Floyd a year and a half ago.
The ballot initiative would have amended the city’s charter to remove a requirement that the police department maintain a minimum of officers.
It asked residents whether the police department should be replaced with a Department of Public Safety “that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions,” the specifics of which would be determined by the mayor and City Council.
Supporters said the measure would reduce the role of armed police officers in calls involving homeless people, mental health issues and substance use, though they would still be part of the new department and would respond to violent crime.
Opponents of the measure criticized the ballot language for saying that the new department “could include” licensed police officers, if necessary, to fulfill its public safety responsibilities at a time when the city has recorded the most homicides since the mid-1990s. Many also took issue with the vague wording of the measure and its newness.
Leili Fatehi, the campaign manager for All of Mpls, which opposed the measure, said voters made clear that they want a planned approach to making changes to policing in the city that “includes serious consultation with communities most impacted by violence, crime and over policing.” She added that attention now shifts to holding police accountable.
At a media briefing Tuesday morning, JaNaé Bates, a minister and spokesperson for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the coalition that petitioned to put the item on the ballot, said the group will continue to push for an overhaul of the police department regardless of whether the ballot initiative passes.
“If the people of Minneapolis vote no, that does mean that the disinformation campaign has won out for this battle. And it means that this fight continues,” she said. “We will most certainly continue moving forward.”
Yes 4 Minneapolis has said a new, revamped department would make the city safer.
According to a recent poll by local media outlets, 33 percent of residents had favorable opinions of the police while 53 percent had unfavorable opinions.
Minneapolis is among a number of municipalities considering or trying to overhaul its police department, after a police officer murdered Floyd last year. A day after the former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder in Floyd’s death, the Justice Department announced it was opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis.
Before Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Police Department made national headlines for the killing of Jamar Clark in November 2015 and the killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July 2017. In recent weeks, videos were released that showed Minneapolis officers discussing “hunting” people who were out past curfew during protests last year, and beating a man who had surrendered.
The ballot measure divided the local community.
Last week, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said that he did not support the ballot amendment and that the election could arguably have the most consequential impact on the future of public safety in Minneapolis.
Arradondo, who has been a member of the department for more than 30 years, said he was never asked for his input into the proposed charter amendment.
He delivered his remarks in full uniform while standing in front of a backdrop featuring the department’s logo.
“To vote on a measure 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,” Arradondo said, adding that he “was not expecting some sort of robust detailed word-for-word plan.”
“But at this point, quite frankly, I would take a drawing on a napkin,” he said. “And I have not seen either.”
Arradondo said that, among other things, the ballot initiative would not prevent tragic incidents between police and members of the community from ever occurring, that it would not “suddenly” change the police department’s culture overnight and that it would not make it easier to recruit, hire or retain officers.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, the coalition of businesses and organizations that petitioned to put the item on the ballot, has said a new, revamped department would make the city safer. Corenia Smith, the campaign manager for the coalition, criticized Arradondo last week for delivering his remarks in uniform, saying that doing so was “in explicit contradiction of the policy he himself wrote last year.”
She added that Arradondo’s news conference revealed “why structural change is imperative to keep the people of Minneapolis safe and to implement an accountable and transparent relationship with those who are called to protect and serve.”