Frey -vs- the Future
Will Minneapolis accept the status quo or help blaze a trail towards a more equitable and efficacious system of public safety? Voters are wrestling with confusing charter amendments, fear of change, and hope for the future.
I recently got into a thoughtful discussion with a person I very much respect re: public safety and the Minneapolis mayoral election. He is a former law enforcement official, is against the public safety charter amendment and is supporting Jacob Frey for re-election. I support the amendment and am supporting former state representative Kate Knuth to replace Frey as mayor. Our email “conversation” was incredibly clarifying for me and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my takeaways with those confused by the proposed amendment and its impact on the future of public safety in Minneapolis.
I believe it’s important to center the mayoral conversation around the fact that there is a stark and binary choice before us: moving towards change or accepting the status quo. I believe most Minneapolis residents want comprehensive change in the area of public safety. Many of us have lost confidence in both the current administration and the MPD’s ability to keep our community safe and thriving under the systems that currently exist. We are concerned about police violence towards our Black and Brown neighbors. There is no indication that Mr. Frey would do a better job of leading on the issue of public safety and its reformation if given a second term. Voting for an incumbent mayor is a vote of confidence in the job the mayor has done. I, for one, cannot cast that vote.
I also believe it’s a mistake to conflate concerns regarding the proposed charter amendment with the mayoral race. Doing so is a form of single issue voting, if you will, and creates a tunnel vision that distorts the mayoral choice before us. The charter amendment will be approved — or not — by the voters of Minneapolis, not the candidates for mayor. If it is approved it will be implemented in some fashion no matter who is mayor.
For those confused about it (and there are many of us!), the public safety charter amendment ends the Minneapolis Police Department as a stand-alone department and replaces it with a multi-faceted Department of Public Safety (DPS). The DPS would include a traditional armed police force among other violence prevention and response initiatives, the idea being that if armed law enforcement does not need to deal with minor traffic violations, homelessness, mental health, etc., it is more efficient and frees up time to address violent crime. The charter proposal makes Public Safety a department within the city — just like any other department. Here is a list of Minneapolis City departments; I think it’s edifying to take a quick look. It’s easy to imagine a Department of Public Safety within this context.
One of the topics also raised is the “15 bosses” issue, which is really part of the “strong mayor” –vs- “strong council” issue that has been a part of local politics since the turn of the century and is being raised again this year. If the public safety amendment passes, the Department of Public Safety will not have 15 bosses; it would be led by a single commissioner, nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Again, this would make the Department of Public Safety management structure the same as every other city department. Knuth has taken this a step further: in her public safety proposal the director of the department would answer to her as mayor — not the city council. (Policy nerds can check out this great explainer on the history of the “charter wars” and its impact on this election.)
Other concerns aired about the future of public safety included state and federal laws affecting law enforcement, binding arbitration, and qualified immunity, which is currently codified under state law. All of these important issues must be addressed, but they are issues that largely play out at the state and federal level. The mayor and council have little power aside from lobbying and the bully pulpit of elected office.
One area of agreement my friend and I share is our mutual support of Chief Arradondo. I continue to be grateful that former Mayor Hodges had the vision to appoint him as Chief. I have met the Chief and worked with him and other officers directly on the Franklin Hiawatha homeless encampment. I know his history and his hopes for the department and I support him. I believe retaining Chief Arradondo is key to negotiating the challenging road ahead.
During our exchange my friend also raised concerns about a “depleted and demoralized” MPD, the accompanying rise in violent crime, and the “general lawlessness” that is plaguing our communities. I share these concerns — but hasn’t all of this has happened on Mr. Frey’s watch, under a system in which the mayor alone has responsibility for the MPD? I struggle to see how another four years under a mayor who has failed so spectacularly will improve this dire situation. Additionally, the City of Minneapolis is self-insured. How much longer can we afford to pay out huge settlements to victims of police violence and misconduct? The City has paid out over $70 million in settlements over the last two decades, much of it in the last three years. Allowing the status quo to continue is something we literally cannot afford.
Citizens here and across the nation are calling for a re-visioning of law enforcement . With the right leadership Minneapolis could be a trail blazer in this effort, helping to move our city and our nation towards a more equitable and efficacious model for keeping communities healthy and safe. I have embraced Kate Knuth’s candidacy and her proposed approach to public safety; I believe hers is a well-considered middle path between the status quo of the current administration and proposals made by some of the other candidates. Knuth’s Building Public Safety and Transforming Policing proposal is comprehensive. I urge all who truly care about this issue to take the time to review it. There’s both the full plan and a “Reader’s Digest” version available.
Whether creating a Department of Public Safety is a positive step towards needed change, as I believe, or a diminishment of the existing policing structure, as my friend fears, is a matter of personal opinion. We must all consider this as we wrestle to decide who will best lead our beloved community forward during these troubled times.
Camille J. Gage is a Minneapolis based artist and writer.