The Minneapolis City Council has unanimously approved a radical proposal to change the city charter that would allow the police department to be dismantled, following mass public 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.
And it came amid a spate of recent shootings in Minnesota’s largest city that have heightened many citizens’ concerns about talk of dismantling the department.
The Minneapolis force has come under heavy pressure since Mr Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, died on May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Activists had 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.
Doing so would first require amending the city charter. Draft language of the amendment posted online would replace the department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, “which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritising 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.
Council members who support the change are looking to seize on a groundswell of support for significant policing changes following Mr Floyd’s death. If they do not get the charter change on the November ballot, their next chance will not come until November 2021, they say.
“It is time to make structural change,” Council Member Steve Fletcher said. “It is time to start from scratch and reinvent what public safety looks like.”
Mayor Jacob Frey does not support abolishing the department, a stance that got him booed off the street by activists who demonstrated outside his house following Mr Floyd’s death and demanded to know where he stood.
Mr Frey expressed concerns about the proposed amendment as currently drafted, including whether the change would eliminate police altogether or allow for a police presence going forward.
He also said that when something currently goes wrong, the chief and the mayor are accountable — but under the new plan, accountability would be dispersed among 14 people. Mr Frey also questioned whether policing practices would vary, based on ward or other factors.
“There is a significant lack of clarity. And if I’m seeing a lack of clarity, so are our constituents,” said Mr Frey, who has said he supports deep structural change in the existing department.
Under the new agency when someone calls 911, there will always be a response that is appropriate, including the option for a response by employees authorised to use force.
But the vast majority of calls that police officers currently take will be answered by employees with different expertise.