If anything has become clear since George Floyd’s murder it’s this: our current approach to public safety isn’t working. Reforming the Minneapolis Police Department to reduce misconduct isn’t a new idea. The families, friends, and neighbors of Terrance Franklin, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and the many others who have been killed by police officers in our community, have been asking for change for years. After Justine’s death in 2017, Council Member Palmisano delivered a statement at City Hall, saying, “I am moving beyond sadness and I am angry. I will be pushing for fundamental changes in our police department from top to bottom.” Four years later, those fundamental changes have not happened. Our current system is not protecting Black residents from police violence—the MPD is under both State and Federal investigation for a pattern of discriminatory policing practices. Our system is also not protecting us from the increased gun violence and property crime in our community. I’m not willing to stand by and wait for Council Member Palmisano, Chief Arradondo, or Mayor Frey to finally make change. We need to meet the moment.
So, what will I do differently?
I support the Yes 4 Minneapolis-led charter amendment to create a new Department of Public Safety. This change will transfer oversight of the MPD from the complete control of the Mayor to shared control with the City Council. The new department will be led by an appointed Public Safety Commissioner who will oversee the Police Department, the Office of Violence Prevention, mental health crisis services, and other safety functions as determined by the council with input from constituents. This new structure will be significantly more transparent and accountable to Minneapolis residents.
Whether or not voters approve the public safety charter amendment, one of my priorities will be to ensure we’re getting a good return on investment for our public safety investments. We currently spend more than one third of our general fund on policing, not including the more than $50 million spent on police misconduct settlements in the past five years. A significant portion of this money pays for officers to make discriminatory stops and arrests that don’t reduce crime, but merely criminalize vulnerable populations. I support reallocating some of the MPD’s budget to evidence-based safety initiatives such as unarmed professionals to enforce minor traffic violations, mental health crisis teams, and violence prevention programs.
Finally, we need to focus our policing and prosecution efforts on the issues that actually improve public safety. Ticketing or arrests for minor crimes like drug possession and solicitation disproportionately affect Black residents and criminalize issues like mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. Giving fines or jail time to vulnerable people with no ill intent does not make our community safer. Our police should be focused on solving violent crimes and major property crimes. To supplement their work, I will prioritize expanding mentoring programs for at-risk youth, truly affordable housing like single-room occupancy residences, and harm-reduction and treatment programs for residents in active addiction.
Minneapolis is in crisis. Some areas are experiencing gun violence daily, and elected leaders are failing to address the issue. While I hope that steps are taken immediately, I know there will be plenty to do after the election. In addition to funding existing community efforts to reduce crime, we should also look to successful initiatives conducted by other cities to halt and reduce crime rates. Addressing gun violence should be our top priority, and it needs to be done NOW.
I would like to see the city implement an incentivized therapy program for those who are most at risk of committing violent acts. The city could provide free therapy and a cash payment for each session in exchange for a commitment to work closely with a mentor and to not engage in violent crime. While therapy isn’t the only tool for fixing our problems, it’s one that should be readily available for free to anyone who wants it.
The incoming City Council members will inevitably have differing views on policing. Some of the candidates are all-out abolitionists, while others are calling for more police presence, and many are somewhere in-between. However, most of us agree that addressing the root causes of crime is the best way to address public safety. If I’m elected, my top priority in working with other Council members will be to address poverty. A well-resourced community is a safe community.
My vision of public safety is building a community where every resident feels safe and served by their city, their representatives and the systems put into place to protect them. In order to achieve that vision we need a robust assortment of services that meet the complex needs of the residents of Minneapolis. That is why I am a vocal proponent of what I call a both/and approach that includes an adequately staffed police department coupled with investments in new, proven strategies of violence prevention.
Specifically, 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.
As we refill those ranks it is important to also use this opportunity to build back the public’s trust in local law enforcement. As I said, true public safety is where all residents feel served by their government and to get that trust we need accountability measures. That is why I have been a staunch proponent of an early intervention system to better track individual officer’s patterns and practices to see trends and intervene early with coaching and discipline when issues are identified. I have also been the leading voice for establishing an Office of Independent Monitor to systematically audit the police department to proactively identify systemic issues and create ongoing improvement plans.
These reforms and improvements to law enforcement must be coupled with investments in strategic violence prevention efforts like our violence interrupters and strategies such as our group violence intervention plan. I strongly support broadening both of these programs to provide greater coverage throughout the city. The more work we can do on violence prevention means more time our officers can spend on true emergencies.
Finally, we need to transform how we meet the needs of residents in crisis situations and make certain we are responding to emergencies with the appropriate professional. That is why I remain a strong proponent of our co-responder program, pairing police officers with mental health professionals to safely respond to mental health emergencies. The City should expand our co-responder programs to include homelessness and youth needs. As we develop new and groundbreaking approaches to public safety we should build upon our successes like this program.