Attention has refocused on the city-owned lot at 2600 Minnehaha Ave. as the future workplace for the police assigned to the southside’s 3rd Precinct.
On Oct. 17, 2023, after being asked to approve starting work on a “community safety center” at the empty lot in Seward, the city council opted to postpone a decision until after they get a more detailed report on Oct. 31, one week before an election where all the city council members are on the ballot. The mayor’s current term ends on Jan. 2, 2026.
The motion to postpone was authored by five of the six council members who represent the people living within the 3rd police precinct, which includes the area of the city south of I94, east of I35W and west of the Mississippi river.
“The 3rd Precinct Council Members who co-authored this motion, and the corresponding legislative directive, feel that there is still outstanding information that we need in order to make informed decisions,” said Ward 11 Council Member Emily Koski before the vote was taken at the council’s “committee of the whole” on Oct. 17.
Koski and council members Robin Wonsley (ward 2) Jamal Osman (ward 6), Jason Chavez (ward 9), and Andrew Johnson (ward 12) all authored the motion to postpone and get more information about the proposed safety center, as well as all the other sites considered.
Ward 8 Council Member Andrea Jenkins was the only council member from the area who did not author the motion that was written in response to the request made by Finance & Property Services and Office of Community Safety staffers, Barbara O’Brien and Jared Jeffries, for authorization “to pursue preliminary investigation, due diligence, and preliminary design work for a Community Safety Center at the city-owned property located at 2600 Minnehaha Ave S.”
The idea of refocusing on 2600 Minnehaha comes from Mayor Jacob Frey. Even though he did not veto the council’s previous decision to start the process for selling the land, in early October he asked them to reverse course and allocate funding to build a new safety headquarters there.
Rushing decision or taking too long?
The vote to put the property up for sale followed a 3rd Precinct engagement report the council received in July that showed divided opinions about a facility at 2600 Minnehaha, as well as the council’s rejection of an alternative downtown location in September.
At the meeting on the 17th, disagreements about the timing were evident.
“I have no interest in delaying this decision,” said Koski. “But just because I understand and share the sense of urgency around making a decision, does not mean I am willing to forgo my oversight responsibility in order to do so.”
“My position is clear that the community deserves a decision, and my administration will do whatever it takes to get to seven votes to get to that decision,” said Frey. “I ask that the council make a decision by Oct. 31.”
“The council and public need more information to ensure that we are making decisions that are fiscally responsible and aligned with the goals of our city’s new citywide public safety system,” said Wonsley, who represents the ward where the proposed new facility would be located.
“I think we’ve let this go on far too long,” said Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano. “I am expecting action and a decision by Oct. 31.”
“Our obligation isn’t to rush decisions or commit to an Oct. 31 deadline,” said Ward 10 Council member Aisha Chughtai. “Due diligence is not indecision or inaction. Thoughtfulness is not indecision or inaction and consensus building is not indecision or inaction. All three of those things are actually good governance.”
Is community leading process?
Concerns were also raised about community and council member involvement in the process.
“Having a conversation and actually talking to the council members from the districts and talking to the residents from the district about the effect it will have is the best way to go,” said Osman.
“I look forward to seeing the administration’s presentation on each of the site options so that council and the public can have a serious conversation about how those various options compare to one another,” said Wonsley. “Also, during the two-week delay I really hope that Mayor Frey can meet with the 3rd precinct residents and hear from them directly.”
“Any decision regarding the 3rd Precinct Police Station should be led by the community,” wrote Chavez. “We need to finish our truth and reconciliation process. Our residents should have the ability to decide what functions a future site will house, what community assets will be available, the design, and where.”
Those concerns were not limited to elected officials.
Mayor asked to meet with local leaders, doesn’t attend meeting
Prior the meeting on the 17th, neighborhood organizations impacted by the future site and services of a 3rd precinct police station sent a letter to the mayor requesting a meeting to have “a meaningful and intentional dialogue about the necessary steps of engagement to create a community safety plan that includes the location and development concepts of the future 3rd precinct facility that will respect and meet community needs.”
“We are aware that you have asked the council to place that facility at 2600 Minnehaha,” they wrote in the invitation. “However, given that you didn’t attend any of the community conversation sessions back in April where hundreds of residents came together to discuss that exact location, we ask you to now come to the table with community to have a long overdue dialogue.”
The mayor, however, declined the meeting. “We are disappointed that the mayor hasn’t made time to sit down and talk directly with those most impacted by the placement and services of the future 3rd precinct location,” wrote Longfellow Community Council Executive Director Rachel Boeke.
More than traditional police station?
Unlike previous proposals, this time it appears that the mayor is proposing that the new facility be more than just a traditional police station.
A memo to the council from Interim Community Safety Commissioner Lee Sheehy and Interim City Operations Officer Heather Johnston, dated Oct. 13, describes a facility that could provide “residents with a spectrum of community safety services.”
It lists police, violence interrupters, social workers, street outreach workers, community navigators, community attorneys, and crime prevention specialists as city staff who might be there. It says, that “a Community Safety Center is a place to house an ecosystem of services needed to bridge the gap between the role of the police and alternative strategies to community safety.” It also says that the design of the center could involve “internal and external partners in how the future of safety looks in communities while creating a continuum of services to support community health and well-being.”
“This memo is one of the first times we are seeing a shift to talking about it as a safety center,” said Chughtai. “That shift I think is in alignment with where I think this council wants to go and where residents want to go, and how we approach public safety and the physical infrastructure that goes along with it.”
Two other sites identified
The memo also identified two new sites that the city reviewed, one at 3716 Cheatham Ave and the other at 2520 26th Ave S.
Larger concerns linger
Larger concerns about improving policing and community trust could influence any decisions about new facilities and it is unclear what progress will be made by the end of the month deadline.
“As we work towards a vision and with a community safety center it is imperative that we receive this information, that we collaborate on a vision that goes beyond just policing and ensure that we are making an informed decision,” said Chavez.
“What this is really about is the relationship that MPD has with the community,” said Ward 1 Council Member Elliott Payne, who supported the delay. “The biggest impediment to moving forward is the lack of demonstrable reform within MPD.”
Chughtai is looking to the council members from the ward for leadership. “I trust them to process the information and build consensus about how we are going to move forward,” she said. “We need to make good decisions and thoughtful decisions that are going to outlast all of us and it is okay if that takes time.”
“The decisions we make now regarding the future Community Safety Center, 3rd Precinct Facility,” said Koski, “are long-term, permanent decisions, decisions which will last to the next century – we cannot take this lightly.”
“We remain hopeful that council will act on behalf of the community and push forward the necessary action steps to create a meaningful, intentional and honest engagement process that respects and meets community needs,” said Boeke, “not just for a physical location of a 3rd Precinct station but also an encompassing community safety plan.”