Disbanding Minneapolis police won't be quick, may require public vote

The city council is starting what is likely a lengthy process.

While news that Minneapolis City Council intends to disband the city's police department, the reality is that this will not likely be a quick, nor easy process.

While having 9 out of 12 councilors (1 seat currently vacant) gives the council a "veto-proof" majority over Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes dismantling the department, ultimately the council needs to change the city charter in order to do so.

And one of the routes for doing that is for the council to push a ballot question through that puts it to residents in a referendum, likely at the next city elections in 2021, when Mayor Jacob Frey will also be up for re-election.

The only way the council can amend the charter without a public vote is by having a full, 13-0 majority, which given three serving councilors haven't come out in support of dismantling MPD, likely won't happen. Amendments passed this way also tend to be used in instances of minor changes to the charter – which disbanding the police is certainly not.

The charter requires the city council to maintain a minimum force based on the city's population, which FOX 9 notes is around 723 officers currently. 

This point was noted by Councilor Cam Gordon, who is in favor of disbanding the police department, in an interview with MPR News. He said that despite this, the council can still take steps in the meantime to make changes to the police contract and budget.

Mayor Frey currently has "complete control" over the police department per the city's charter – something which Gordon tried, and failed, to overturn in 2018-19 with an amendment to the charter, which was delayed by the Charter Commission and thus was too late to submit as a ballot question in the 2018 elections.

Gordon told MPR that with the public's sentiment at the very least in favor of reform of the police, Frey and police leaders could "go along" with changes they make in the interim.

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Police department won't 'suddenly disappear'

Ward 4 council member Phillipe Cunningham has also sought to alley concerns that Sunday's announcement will mean immediate changes, but rather it's the beginning of a process whereby the community will be engaged in plans for an alternative form of public safety.

"Folks ask what’s the plan ... there isn’t one yet and there’s a reason for that. The City has to work ALONGSIDE community to build something new." he wrote on Facebook.

"I have heard loud and clear Northsiders don’t want the government working in a bubble and to just tell them what’s going to happen. Further, I just want to reiterate today’s commitment does NOT mean the police department will suddenly disappear tomorrow.

"There will be a thoughtful, intentional, iterative process to transition us into new systems to keep our community safe. YOU must be a part of this process. I commit to you today to work alongside you as we explore these new systems that are rooted in justice and community."

Cunningham also reserved praise for Chief Medaria Arradondo, who has sought to make changes since he became police chief, but has found it difficult due to the power of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, butting heads with its president Bob Kroll.

"I believe in Chief Arradondo and his vision for what is possible for public safety; I don’t, however, believe one man, even someone as amazing as he is, has the power to change a broken system," Cunningham said.

"I look forward to working with him and every single Ward 4 resident to bring the vision of a community that is safe for ALL of us and one in which we can ALL thrive."

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