Coming on the heels of a new poll showing support for the replacement of Minneapolis Police Department, Mayor Jacob Frey has re-iterated his backing for the creation of a Department of Public Safety in the city, as well as the removal of police staffing minimums within the city's charter.
In a post on Facebook Saturday, Frey – who has been among the leading supporters of Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd's murder, advocating for its reform rather than its replacement – signaled that he is in favor of the creation of a "Department of Public Safety" that would supersede MPD.
"More data backing a both/and approach to police reform and public safety," he posted. "Let’s listen to community and boost officer staffing levels and thoughtfully create a Department of Public Safety — neither of which require a charter change."
In his post, Frey links to the poll commissioned by the Star Tribune, MPR News, KARE 11, and FRONTLINE that reveals there is more support for the creation of the Department of Public Safety than there is against it.
In the poll, 49% of respondents said they approve of creating the department to replace MPD and "focus on public health," as well as giving the city council more say over public safety in the city, compared to 41% opposed and 10% undecided.
Frey's office reached out to Bring Me The News to argue that the mayor's views are not new, as he has supported the creation of a Department of Public Safety for months now, sending clips of appearances he made earlier this year in which he said as much.
His support for the creation of such a department – in which responsibility for public safety would be devolved across several areas of expertise rather than police responding to the vast majority of calls – is different from the proposal being put forward in this November's ballot question (Question 2) in that he wants the responsibility for policing to remain with the mayor's office.
The Department of Public Safety being proposed in November would be overseen by a combination of the mayor and the city council.
As such, Frey remains "adamantly opposed" to changing the city's charter to create the Department of Public Safety and will continue to campaign for a "no" vote on Question 2, which comes after a disagreement over the language of the ballot question in which he vetoed the city's council's agreed phrasing three times.
Question 2 will ask Minneapolis voters whether to replace MPD with the new Department of Public Safety led by the mayor and council, and remove the requirements for a police department, a police chief, and a minimum officer staffing level from the city charter.
Frey's Department of Public Safety would see MPD "placed within the Department of Public Safety alongside other departments engaged in community safety work," but when asked if he has any plans to put forward a formal proposal for his desired Department of Public Safety, Frey's campaign was not definitive, instead saying he'll be "engaging with community, experts, and city staff in developing that vision and ensuring there is a thoughtful process in place to create it.
The timing of Frey's Facebook post and the associated link to the poll gave rise to criticism that the mayor was shifting his stance on the November question in response to public opinion.
Kate Knuth, who is challenging Frey in the race for mayor this November, tweeted: "How dumb does the mayor think we are? That he thinks we wouldn’t notice his sudden support for a Dept. of Public Safety the second a poll shows it’s popular."
Frey has backed boosting police numbers in the city – something the latest poll shows a majority of Minneapolis residents are in favor of too — but his post in support of a Department of Public Safety saw attention drawn to comments he made in September 2020 in which he also called for repealing the mandatory minimum number of police officers from being in the city charter.
Video of a charter commission meeting was shared on Twitter by Wedge Live, in which Frey said: "We don't have a minimum number of CPED employees or individuals handling payroll or people filling potholes, so no I'm not for a minimum number [of police] within the charter."
When asked what changes to the charter could improve police accountability and public safety, he added: "The most obvious piece is the mandatory minimum itself that is present within the charter. You could fall on either side of the argument as to whether we need more officers or fewer officers but there's particular pieces within the charter itself and, em, there's no legal necessity to have it."
"What that does, by the way, is it would have the full discussion of staffing to simply take place during budget conversations which I believe is the correct venue," he explained.
On Monday, Frey's campaign confirmed his views on minimum officer requirements, stating:
"While the mayor believes that Minneapolis needs to rebuild Police Department staffing to the sworn capacity of 888 officers, he doesn’t believe that it’s necessary to include mandatory staffing levels for any city function within its Charter."
Here is the policing question that appears on Minneapolis ballots this year:
City Question #2
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?
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.
Note: This story has been changed from an earlier version that described the mayor as having changed his mind on the Department of Public Safety at the weekend. We became aware of at least two occasions earlier this year when he expressed support of such a department, albeit in a different form than put forward in November's ballot question.