Commentary: Minneapolis Public Safety — What Is Next?

Minneapolis and St. Paul passed the opportunity for rent stabilization. A big win for young people and others who want to afford to live in the cities.

In public safety, more power now is in the hands of the Minneapolis mayor (Question 1 passed with 52 percent of the vote) — and thus more accountability to enact true public safety measures that reduce crime (Mayor Frey’s pledge in 2017 when he criticized Betsy Hodges as mayor).

For me, if we are to get actual serious crime prevention, that includes:

  • Solving Black homicides and increasing BIPOC police in the two precincts that need more presence than they have (which includes our office in North Minneapolis) — currently a large number of police are out for post-traumatic stress disorder and need to be replaced with people who live in the community and reflect it
  • Finding the distribution influx of guns and reducing access to those who shoot each other, while also investing more in affordable housing and other services for youth to reduce the appeal of criminal activity
  • Reducing gender-based violence with behavioral treatment
  • Treating substance use, not incarcerating it (a process that requires much greater investment in experienced crisis responders)

There were reasons for it, but I am sorry the misleading narrative won (including in the Star Tribune headline) that creating a Public Safety department requires abolishing the police. It does not. Other cities in Minnesota, and elsewhere, have a Public Safety department, which includes police as well as fire and emergency medical technicians.

Saint Paul started a great process of improving public safety practices five months after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis.

A few people used the word ‘abolish’, which became the focal point in campaigns for those who used the strategy of fear instead of transformation.

A direct mailer that arrived in my home in a largely white neighborhood
Not mentioned… why the police numbers have dropped since 2019, the impact of pandemic — including GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE on crime data nationwide — and the tendency for crimes to mostly go unsolved. We need violence and crime prevention funded on the front end if we are to actually reduce crime and improve resolutions.

New Minneapolis City Council

Although Question 2 did not pass on creating a public safety department in Minneapolis, there is another interesting mix of reform progressives and moderates on the Minneapolis City Council. A Star Tribune headline implied that Minneapolis City Council members were replaced who wanted police reform, but many new council members have reform-minded viewpoints. For those who responded to our question about public safety as candidates, you can read their full viewpoints on public safety. Following are excerpts:

  • City Council Ward 1: Elliott Payne — “I’m looking forward to continuing the collaborative, common-sense work that I began last year when my team in the Office of Performance and Innovation at city hall helped pass the Safety for All Budget, which reallocated $8 million away from the MPD and into programs and policies proven to keep us safe. I’m committed to a community-centered public health approach to public safety and I will pursue the expansion of community-based initiatives and programs and prioritize establishing a Department of Public Safety.”
  • City Council Ward 2: Robin Wonsley Worlobah — “My vision for public safety includes new city department with a large workforce of union employees: mental health workers, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and sexual violence counselors, all of whom prioritize the safety and wellness needs of residents. As we build this new department, we must scale back our armed police force, providing mental-health and job-transition resources to former officers to reintegrate them into our communities and prevent them from causing further harm.”
  • City Council Ward 3: Michael Rainville — “I want to ensure safety for those who are afraid to call 911 concerned about what may happen to them. I want to see strong reforms such as ongoing training for implicit bias and de-escalation. I want to expand our co-responder program to better serve our neighbors under mental distress. We need to be intentional about hiring officers from our city, especially our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.”
  • City Council Ward 4: LaTrisha Vetaw — did not respond
  • City Council Ward 5: Jeremiah Ellison (incumbent) — “We need a system of emergency response that understands what kinds of emergencies the police are the best response to, and what emergencies need a new type of response — one that goes beyond the police-only model that produced George Floyd, Jamar Clark, Terence Franklin, and the list goes on. We need to define the scope of the police, a scope that has broadened by the decade, to the point that nearly every 911 call that isn’t a fire or physical medical emergency gets a police response whether the situation truly calls for it or not. The public health approach of the Office of Violence Prevention needs more investment–the aim is to target and treat cycles of violence before they get fully started.”
  • City Council Ward 6: Jamal Osman — did not respond
  • City Council Ward 7: Lisa Goodman (incumbent) — “Having 14 bosses making decisions about law enforcement doesn’t solve the problems with MPD. Under current state law with a new Department of Public Safety, Minneapolis will still have the same union, the same state laws that require binding arbitration, the same inability to require residency, and the same broken system currently used to discipline and fire officers.”
  • City Council Ward 8: Andrea Jenkins (incumbent) — did not respond
  • City Council Ward 9: Jason Chavez — “I strongly support harnessing our city budget to set large investments in historically underfunded non-police-centered public safety alternatives, including fully funding and expanding the Community Safety Specialist (CSS) Program. I’ll collaborate with city officials, local leaders, and emergency service administrators to help give proper resources to first responders who can most effectively respond to crime and de-escalate emergencies, like EMT’s, firefighters, mental health workers, social workers, and domestic violence responders.”
  • City Council Ward 10: Aisha Chughta — “I support demilitarizing Minneapolis Police Department methods and training, including banning police use of chemical irritants and sonic weapons, and forbidding the purchase of surplus military vehicles and weapons. Minneapolis must refuse to negotiate a police contract that allows the power of the police union to remain unchecked. We need to invest in data-driven, public health centered programs with preventative methodologies to address the root causes of crime. That looks like making sure people have a safe, dignified, and affordable place to live, an easy and accessible way to get to and from work, and are treated with dignity and respect in their workplace.”
  • City Council Ward 11: Emily Koski — “I believe we must reform our public safety system, by addressing structural and systemic racism, implementing deep structural change, and creating public safety alternatives beyond traditional policing; and, we must continue to perform the core components of our public safety system, which requires adequately staffing and funding our Police Department.”
  • City Council Ward 12: Andrew Johnson (incumbent) — did not respond
  • City Council Ward 13: Linea Palmisano (incumbent) — “I support investments that allow us to return to our pre-pandemic staffing levels within MPD. We cannot continue to under-staff our local precincts in the face of a historic uptick in violent crime across the city. We need a return to adequate staffing levels so that we may bring back our dedicated task forces working to interrupt gang and gun violence, while also meeting our investigatory needs to help victims of violent crime.”

Departing Thoughts from Council Member

Outgoing City Council person Lisa Bender, who opted not to run again in Ward 10, offered an impassioned news release: “I could not be more proud to pass the baton to the next Ward 10 City Council Member Aisha Chughtai, a young renter from an immigrant family who ran on a promise of leaving no member of our community behind. …

“With the passage of Question 1 and the status quo charter maintained for public safety, it is important that the Minneapolis community get clear: the Mayor of Minneapolis has always had and will retain complete control over the Minneapolis Police Department. The people of Minneapolis should hold the Mayor accountable to that power and responsibility. 

“Though Question 2 did not pass, 44 percent of Minneapolis voters supported the measure, even in the face of unprecedented spending on misinformation against this change. Each of the top three candidates for Mayor voiced support for creating a Department of Public Safety and for continuing to invest in safety strategies beyond policing. This includes Mayor Frey. Whether people voted yes or no on Question 2, they should hold the Mayor accountable to his promise of creating a Department of Public Safety and making significant, not cosmetic, investment in alternatives to policing.

“To achieve the promise of a balanced government with a strong mayor and a strong, independent legislative branch, significant staffing and process shifts are needed to ensure the City Council has the ability to complete its legislative work. Given the power afforded the Mayor under the Charter change approved in Question 1, the Mayor should be held accountable for action or inaction on all the pressing issues facing our city, including a just recovery from the pandemic, worker and small business support, housing and homelessness, infrastructure, public safety and sustainable budgeting.”

I like the suggestion that rather than spend campaign money on mailing flyers, candidates invest in their favorite nonprofit activity to help voters assess their values.