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Minneapolis Voters to Decide Whether to Replace Police Department

October 27, 2021 by Dan McCue
Protesters block an intersection in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, after Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, posted bail and was released from prison. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Ballot measures normally don’t get too much attention. But Minneapolis residents next week are poised to vote for or against perhaps the most high profile ballot measure ever — one that could lead to the city’s police department being transformed into a public safety agency.

The debate over City Question 2 has dominated the local election landscape this fall, with Nov. 2 being the first elections held in the city since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in May 2020.

While passing the amendment would be a major win for progressives in the city, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar, other high profile and more moderate Democrats fear the measure will only compound the rising crime rate in the city while turning off establishment voters.

Violent crime surged nearly 17% in Minneapolis last year according to data from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Among those who have spoken out against the bill are Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Angie Craig, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who is currently running for a second term.

Craig has called the measure “shortsighted, misguided and likely to harm the very communities that it seeks to protect.” 

Meanwhile, Frey has criticized what he’s described as the vagueness of the ballot measure.

“We need to see a clear vision and clarity…we need to be clear and precise about what we’re going to do and when…this amendment to our legal city charter doesn’t provide clarity,” he said after the Minneapolis City Council advanced the measure in June.

Those who support it however claim it will allow mental health or substance abuse experts to respond to some emergency calls.

City Question 2 would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety. 

The new department would be responsible for “a comprehensive public health approach to safety,” including the employment of licensed police officers, if needed, to fulfill the department’s responsibilities.

A Commissioner of Public Safety would lead the new department and be nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council. 

The ballot initiative would also provide for the fire police to be housed within the department. 

Though the words “defund the police” appear nowhere in the ballot language, City Question 2 would remove the minimum funding requirement for police ($0.0017 per resident) from the Minneapolis Charter.

Finally, the measure needs to garner the support of 51% of Minneapolis to pass.

Just last month, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the measure could remain on the ballot after a district judge tried to block it.

As for Frey, he’s seeking reelection to a second term in a field of 17. If he were to be reelected, Frey would be the first Minneapolis mayor to win a second term since R. T. Rybak did it in 2005.

But the incumbent, who has been endorsed by the Star Tribune, is facing a stiff challenge from three of the 17 who oppose him: these are local activist Sheila Nezhad, professional mediator A.J. Awed and former MInnesota state Rep. Kate Knuth 

“We stepped up through a very difficult time,” Frey said when he announced his candidacy earlier this year. “Was it a tough year in our city and nationally? Absolutely, it was. What we showed very consistently is the kind of steady, determined and collaborative leadership that you need.”

Though he received praise for his rapid condemnation of the officers who killed George Floyd, Frey also faced widespread criticism for the city’s response to the rioting that followed.

Among other things, Frey was sharply criticized by many for his decision to abandon the police 3rd Precinct rather than risk an escalation of the riot.

In June 2020 he told WCCO-TV in Minneapolis “If we decided to continue to hold the 3rd Precinct there very likely would have been hand-to-hand combat, likely serious injury and maybe death, and in the decision between a building and life-or-death we decided to evacuate.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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