One question has been popping up a lot lately in Minneapolis’ public safety amendment debate: Will the Minneapolis Police Department really be gone in 30 days if the ballot measure is approved by voters?
“I get asked this question routinely,” said Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl. “More than once a day now.”
Campaign mailers distributed by All of Mpls, a political committee that is opposing the amendment, have said that approval of the measure “would remove the police department 30 days after the election with no timeline or plan for its replacement.”
The same mailing also says the ballot measure “would dismantle the police department 30 days after the election with no timeline or plan for its replacement.”
Is that really true?
“On paper,” this is correct, notes Carl. The state law governing charter amendments says that, if passed by voters, “the amendment shall take effect in 30 days from the date of the election or at such other time as is fixed in the amendment.”
That would mean the city would have a Dec. 3 deadline to “remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety,” as stated in the ballot question.
What that means in practice is more complicated, though. While the city has to officially begin the transition by the deadline, everything in a charter amendment doesn’t have to be achieved by then, said Carl.
“It is impossible for any group of policymakers to have a transition plan to be done by Dec. 3; that is not a realistic thing. It just can’t be done,” said Carl. “But what the law says is that the question becomes ‘effective,’ it doesn’t say in the law that we have to have the entire thing implemented.”
There would be other real-world complications from implementing the amendment, noted Carl. Minnesota law requires that certain law enforcement services provided by a city be conducted by peace officers, which are traditional police. Until a new public safety department would be able to handle all that goes into handling such scenarios, Minneapolis police would carry out those responsibilities.
There’s also the matter of the city’s police union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, and its labor contract. Though the most recent union contract expired on Dec. 31, 2019, “the terms and conditions of that contract continue to apply, pending a new contract that is yet to be negotiated and ultimately approved by the Mayor and Council,” said Carl.
Carl also said that any peace officers within a new public safety department would likely be represented by the federation.
“There is not a black and white answer,” said Carl. “The paper world would be changed, effective Dec. 3, for sure, but the real world is not as clear-cut. We would still have police officers on our payroll. We would still have law enforcement functions that would need to be provided in the city under state law. We would still have an obligation as an employer to those employees.”
As a possibility, a way to “bridge the paper and real world,” Carl said the mayor and City Council together could name a public safety commissioner on Dec. 3. The city would then take action to ensure that the holder of the position would be the legal successor to the police chief once the new department is established.
Creating a new role at that level, said Carl, often takes six or seven months. “And that’s the government moving fast,” Carl said, and he would not venture to estimate how long it could possibly take to stand up — or tear down — an entire department.
Asked about the recent campaign literature, All of Mpls campaign manager Leili Fatehi noted that the mailers specifically say that the department will be dismantled, not that all law enforcement functions will cease. “There’s nothing in that that makes the claim that all cops disappear,” in 30 days, said Fatehi. “But the police department, as an artifact that exists by nature and consequence of the charter saying it exists, will have those provisions struck from the charter.”
Fatehi said that reading anything more into All of Mpls’ claims is intentionally misreading the mailer language.