Guest column

It’s time for the people to decide future of public safety

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The people of Minneapolis have made it clear: our existing public safety system is not working, and it’s time to stop pointing fingers and make change. We’re fortunate to have a shared vision across our community for something better, and this November, it should be up to voters to decide whether it is finally time to make long-overdue improvements or stick with a costly status quo.
In response to these widespread calls for change, I co-authored the Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment to update our city charter (which we can think of as our local constitution) so that we can broaden our public safety system and eliminate barriers to oversight and accountability. The proposed amendment – to come before voters in this fall’s election – would create a new Department of Public Safety that would include a Division of Law Enforcement and incorporate critical complementary strategies like violence prevention and intervention. State law requires us to keep police officers on our payroll, and we will need them to respond to violent and extreme situations, but it’s time we focus as much on preventing crime and avoiding harm as we do on responding after harm is done. We’ve begun to invest in specialized mental health response for folks experiencing mental health crisis, a proven model that keeps everyone safer, as well as targeted efforts to interrupt cycles of violence including through direct street outreach. This approach allows us to better meet our community’s needs while reducing the burden on police officers, a win-win.
As we move toward a more specialized and dynamic public safety system, it is essential to put in place safeguards that ensure police treat everyone in Minneapolis with dignity and respect. To get there, we must overcome a key barrier to change in the current charter. The Minneapolis Police Department is the only city department for which the charter assigns “complete power” to the mayor. In practice, this means city council members – the elected officials inherently most responsive to and embedded in their communities – face enormous limitations in making the changes community members expect in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, even amid an ongoing investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights into the MPD’s history of racist practices.
The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment offers a good government fix by sharing oversight of the new Department of Public Safety between the mayor and city council, with a department head guiding day-to-day operations. This sounds like common sense because it is. In fact, it’s the norm in Minneapolis. Other city departments, including those that handle emergency response like the fire department and public works, operate this way. There is no reason for the police to face less accountability, especially in light of repeated instances of serious officer misconduct. The current structure has made it harder for me as a council member, and by extension my constituents, to get information from MPD – a struggle I don’t face with other city departments. It’s made it harder to understand what progress is being made on officer discipline, training standards, and more. These gaps are unacceptable, and we need to do better.
It’s time for this good government solution that improves transparency and outcomes rather than settling for a status quo we already know doesn’t work. Plus, inaction has a steep cost: violence in our communities, broken trust in our systems, and multimillion-dollar settlements taxpayers routinely pay victims of police misconduct.
The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment offers us a better path forward. Under this proposal, Minneapolis voters are empowered to chart our course on public safety, upholding the unanimous commitment made by the city council last summer to engage all willing community members in this process. There is no better way to ensure all voices are heard than through our democratic process, in this year’s election. It’s time to listen to the community, and seize this opportunity to work together, to build a better future. The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment is a common-sense provision that lays a solid foundation for this challenging but necessary work.

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