MINNEAPOLIS – The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously advanced a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled, following widespread criticism of law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.
The 12-0 vote is just the first step in a process that faces significant bureaucratic obstacles to make the November ballot, where the city’s voters would have the final say. It also comes amid a spate of recent shootings in Minnesota’s largest city that have heightened many citizens’ concerns about talk of dismantling the department.
The proposed amendment, which would replace the police department with a new “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention” that has yet to be fully defined, next goes to a policy committee and to the city’s Charter Commission for a formal review, at which point citizens and city officials can weigh in.
“I hope that the Charter Commission will recognize the moment that we are in and take our offer of support, however we can provide it, to expedite this process so that voters have a chance to have their voices heard on this important question and this important moment in our city’s history,” Council President Lisa Bender said before the vote.
The Minneapolis force has come under heavy pressure since Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Activists have long accused the department of being unable to change a racist and brutal culture, and earlier this month, a majority of the council proclaimed support for dismantling the department.
Jeremiah Ellison, a member of the council, said after the vote that the charter is one of three major barriers to “transformative public safety,” along with the city's police union and the Minnesota Legislature. The charter — which requires the city to have a police department of a certain size — is the one thing the city council has a say over, he said.
According to draft language posted online, the new department "will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”
The amendment goes on to say the director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” It also provides for a division of licensed peace officers who would answer to the department's director.