Reimagining Public Safety

EFFORTS TO REIMAGINE PUBLIC SAFETY

Charter Amendments Impacting Public Safety

2020 Failed Public Safety Amendment

Following the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd and ensuing protests and riots, five members of the Minneapolis City Council drafted an amendment to the City Charter to abolish the Police Department and create a new Department of Public Safety. They wanted the new department to report to the City Council instead of the Mayor, and left uncertain whether or not it would include sworn police officers.

The Charter Commission reviewed the proposed amendment for the November 2020 ballot and appointed a committee for further study.  It concluded after review and public hearings that 1) Minneapolis citizens were divided on the issue, 2) many citizens wanted more input from the community, the Chief of Police and other stakeholders, and 3) abolishment of the MPD without a plan in place would be dangerous and irresponsible.  It declined to approve it for the November 2020 ballot.

2021 Ballot Amendments

The following two proposed charter amendments, if approved by the voters, would impact public safety. We are presenting them in the order they will appear on the ballot.

2021 Government Structure: Executive Mayor-Legislative Council Amendment – City Question 1

The Charter Commission has developed a government structure amendment. The purpose of this amendment, according to the working group of the Commission, is  to “better define and delineate relationships between Council, Mayor and City staff.” This amendment maintains the City Council as the legislative body and the Mayor as the chief executive officer of the city.

This amendment impacts public safety in that, along with other departments, it puts executive power over public safety in the hands of the mayor, with the City Council maintaining legislative and policy making power.

This amendment does not address any specific city function or department, but focuses on clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Mayor, the City Council and other city staff across all city services and functions. The Mayor would become the chief executive of the city, overseeing administrative departments, and the City Council would have a legislative role, defining city services through ordinance. The Mayor would have operational responsibility to execute these ordinances and would appoint and supervise department heads, whose terms would be concurrent with the mayor’s term.  The city auditor’s role under the amendment is strengthened and elevated. The auditor would report to the City Council and, at the council’s direction, would assess the executive branch’s implementation of policies and ordinances through programmatic and financial audits. The Executive Committee, which presently includes the mayor, council president and three other council representatives would be removed from the charter.

The following table summarizes the government structure amendment:

Legislative CouncilExecutive Mayor
Council holds all legislative and policymaking authority of the CityCouncil's actions are subject to approval or veto by the Mayor
Council may override the Mayor's veto with the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its MembersMayor is responsible for working with Council to establish a shared agenda of policy priorities to advance the City
Council is responsible for confirming the Mayor's appointment of department headsMayor is the City's chief executive, head of its Administration, and appoints and supervises department heads
Council holds the "power of the purse" and has the authority to refine and adopt the final City budgetMayor continues to prepare and present the proposed City budget
Council has power to make inquiries or to conduct investigations about the Administration and of the operation of City departmentsMayor has line-item veto on budget and expenditure actions
Council is given adequate resources to support its legislative/policymaking, oversight, and constituent services functionDepartment heads serve for terms that run concurrent with the elective term for the Mayor

This Amendment has been reviewed by the City Council for ballot language and will appear on the ballot as:

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)

Government Structure: Executive Mayor – Legislative Council

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?

The LWVMpls has long supported this kind of structural reform to the city government structure, and it endorses this amendment. 

 Learn more about the role and function of the Charter Commission in city government.

2021 Department of Public Safety Amendment – City Question 2

A new Public Safety Amendment will be on the ballot this November. The most recent ballot language was struck down by the Hennepin County district court, but upheld on September 16, 2021 by the MinnesotaSupreme Court.

The Amendment is the result of a citizen petition written and championed by the community group Yes 4 Minneapolis. The City Council withdrew a similar charter amendment it had proposed so there would be just one public safety amendment on the November 2021 ballot, the Yes 4 petition amendment.

The Charter requires the City Attorney to draft ballot language for any proposed amendments. After revisions, mayoral vetoes, City Council overrides and several trips to the courts, the language on the ballot will appear as below:

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)

Department of Public Safety

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note:

This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.

The ballot language is supposed to convey the proposed changes in a format voters can digest at the polls. You can see the actual revisions to the charter here. Note that the ballot language following the actual revisions on the linked document has changed, but the proposed changes to the city charter have never changed.

Changes Amendment would bring

A Charter amendment becomes law 30 days after passage.  If this amendment is passed, on December 2, 2021 the Minneapolis Police Department would be removed from the the City of Minneapolis and its charter. In its place would be a Department of Public Safety.  A commissioner of public safety would lead this department.

Current city ordinances reference the police department and chief. The Amendment’s impact on those ordinances and thus the post-amendment status of the police department and chief is not clear.

The Charter currently requires a minimum number of officers and guarantees funding for those officers based on the city’s population. The Public Safety Amendment eliminates those requirements. State statutes require licensed peace officers to perform specific functions, so police officers would remain but in what number and capacity is to be determined.

The Charter also currently requires the Chief of Police to report to the Mayor. Under the proposed amendment, the commissioner of public safety would report to both the Mayor and City Council (via the Executive Committee that presently governs other City departments). The proposed Public Safety Amendment also removes mayoral power currently in the Charter to hire temporary police officers for up to one week in case of riot or emergency.

Support and Criticism of Amendment

The proposed amendment has vocal and strong supporters and critics across community and government. The Mayor and a minority of the City Council are opposed, with the rest of the Council in favor.

Supporters of the Public Safety amendment say the Mayor’s power over the MPD has not brought reforms needed to prevent the culture of police brutality that caused George Floyd’s murder. They want a different power structure for the department of public safety and a public safety approach focused on public health instead of police domination and control, believing radical change is necessary to protect communities of color from police use of excessive force and coercion. Many see the Council as more representative and closer to the people than the Mayor, and believe increased Council control will result in public safety more aligned with broader community values.

Critics also want reforms but believe a comprehensive, public health approach is possible under the current structure, without reducing the size of the police force. Some have sued the City for not maintaining an adequate number of officers to address current upticks in crime in their neighborhoods. They view a reporting structure to multiple bosses as unworkable, with department leadership, policies and support staff pulled in too many conflicting directions. Critics also view the amendment as too complex, with too many factors (new department, police/police chief removed from charter, unclear line of reporting, no minimum requirement for law enforcement) for citizens to reasonably respond with a single yes/no vote. In addition, they point out that a change to the reporting structure does nothing to address significant barriers to police reform such as the Police Federation contract, state-mandated arbitration for disciplinary action, and qualified immunity.

The LWVMpls has not taken a position on this amendment and encourages voters to educate themselves and vote.  We hope these Reimagining Public Safety pages will help!

Interplay of Public Safety and Government Structure Amendment

Where does administrative authority over the Department of Public Safety vest if both the Public Safety Amendment and the Government Structure Amendment pass? The Public Safety Amendment creates a Department of Public Safety with its commissioner appointed by the Executive Committee pursuant to current Section 8.4 of the Charter. The Government Structure amendment eliminates the Executive Committee by striking Section 4.5 of the Charter and reference to the Committee in Section 8.4. It revises Sections 7.3 and 8.4(b) to provide that the Mayor nominates and appoints, with City Council consent, a police chief.

The chair of the Charter Commission has stated that he does not see conflicts between these amendments and believes both can be implemented if approved by voters. This could mean creation of a Department of Public Safety (which might have a law enforcement component), with a Commissioner of Public Safety to be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Mayor.

Given the tension in the City over these issues, regardless of the outcome, legal action is likely to ensue.

Updated September 24, 2021 @ 5:57 am

Proposed Charter Amendments

RESOURCES

Press articles, scholarly articles, reports and studies

DEFINITIONS

Glossary of terms and definitions

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