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Lack of detail hampers Minneapolis City Council's police messaging

The council has lofty goals, but the devil will be in the detail.
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Councilors backing the ultimate goal of disbanding Minneapolis Police Department have found themselves under pressure for more details as to their intentions.

By announcing their plans at a rally in Powderhorn Park, in front of a crowd seemingly fully behind the goal of disbanding the MPD, the councilors weren't subjected to the same level of scrutiny and questioning that they've had in the ensuing days.

The situation wasn't helped that in the immediate wake of Sunday's announcement, some media outlets misrepresented what was actually happening, notably Forbes, which wrote that the city council had "voted to disband" the city's police department – which has still not been corrected on its website.

This lack of detail has in turn led to alarmed reactions from some in Minnesota, including Republican lawmakers from outside Minneapolis. For example Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) described MCC as a "rogue city council" who could "drive our state into anarchy."

Councilors have since had to explain further what Sunday was all about, including having to clarify that it didn't mean that MPD would be immediately disbanded, and that the event rather marked the start of a year-long process to "reimagine" public safety in Minneapolis with input from the community, as well as clarifying that their eventual plan – when one is formulated – is likely to be subject of a public vote.

On Monday, council president Lisa Bender gave an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, who tried to get her to address the one abiding concern that has been raised since Sunday: if there is no police department, who will respond to reports of serious crime?

While the council has been vague about this issue – with none of the nine councilors providing a response to the same question from BMTN – Bender said that "looking forward, yes absolutely if something is happening, there needs to be someone to call, and yes absolutely we need to make sure everyone is safe."

She also went on to say that previous comments she's made about being able to envisage a police-free Minneapolis is "aspirational," and to achieve it, it would require significant investment into building alternative public safety options, providing a tailored response to different public health and safety emergencies.

Thus far, the main message from the councilors in favor of disbanding MPD is that the current system isn't working: police brutality continues to happen in Minneapolis, disproportionately impacting people of color, and there is nowhere near enough accountability for 

With George Floyd's death still happening despite changes made in the wake of the deaths of Jamar Clark and Justine Damond at the hands of MPD officers, the councilors and activists in Minneapolis believe the department is beyond reform.

The calls to disband the department comes amid a wider discussion over the extent of the responsibilities given to police officers, responding to a huge range of calls to which some say other professionals are better suited.

While "disband the police" is declarative and specific, the council's plans to replace it for now remain nebulous, as does its messaging, and is likely to remain that way for a while given it's embarking on a lengthy consultation process with city residents.

In the interim, Bender has said it will be working to use what power it does have – aided by a veto-proof majority – to implement interim changes, for example by redirecting some of its budget to social programs, and the demilitarization of the city's officers.

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There remains hope for the council's plans – despite opposition from the likes of Mayor Jacob Frey, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump – in the form of the example of Camden, New Jersey.

Seven years ago, the crime-ridden city disbanded its misconduct-rife police department, ripping up its union contracts, and replacing it with what NBC4 describes as a "larger county police force more focused on neighborhood patrol and respect."

Some of the officers from the disbanded force were able to get jobs with the new organizations, though there have been criticisms from locals that the replacement force contains fewer officers of color, and many of them don't live in the city.

Nonetheless, the community policing approach emphasizes deescalation and dialogue with residents, and since it was implemented there has been a 42 percent drop in crime in the past seven years, per CNN.

That said, Camden is a significantly smaller city than Minneapolis and each has its own set of problems, so what worked there isn't guaranteed to work in Minnesota.

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