Minneapolis voters may have rejected a bid to get rid of the Minneapolis Police Department in favor of a Department of Public Safety in November, but another effort to put police accountability on the ballot is already underway.
For months, a group unaffiliated with the coalition that organized the most recent charter amendment effort has been gathering signatures to place another public safety question on the ballot in November 2022.
That new campaign — known as Minneapolis for Community Control of Police — was organized by the group Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar and has been gathering signatures for the last six months. The group says it has picked up nearly a third of the 12,000 signatures needed to get a question on the ballot this year.
The proposed question would ask if voters want to amend the city charter in order to add a civilian accountability board for the police department. “Basically, it’s a way of having police accountability be more accountable than it has ever been,” said Jae Yates, the field director for Minneapolis for Community Control of Police petition campaign.
If approved, the board would not seek to dismantle or defund the police department, though Yates believes that setting up such a commission is the first step toward an ultimate goal of restructuring public safety. “A lot of us are abolitionists and do believe we have to start restructuring our society so it’s not governed by police and police have all this unchecked power,” said Yates. “But in the meantime, you can’t abolish something that you don’t control. To us, we have to get the police department under control and under the jurisdiction of the people that the police serve before we can talk about dissolving the department. We also don’t have a viable alternative to replace them with right now. To us, this is the first step in dismantling police departments across the country.”
Yates stresses that the Minneapolis for Community Control of Police would not be similar to other advisory or oversight boards, which he said tend to have little authority. Minneapolis already has a Police Conduct Oversight Commission, whose members are appointed by the City Council and take citizen input and offer policy recommendations around policing to the City Council.
For the new charter proposal, Yates said organizers relied on the example of activists in Chicago, a city that approved its own accountability commission — the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability — in the summer of 2021.
Chicago’s new oversight body came after calls for civilian oversight from activists following the police killing of Laquan McDonald, but that commission was introduced and passed via the city council, not through a citywide vote. The body will be made up of seven members nominated by councils in each of Chicago’s police districts. The commission will have several oversight functions, and be involved in the hiring and firing the police superintendent, though the mayor will have final say.
As devised by Minneapolis for Community Control of Police, the Minneapolis version would be called the Civilian Police Accountability Commission. It would be in charge of firing police officers with multiple complaints or serious violations and would also oversee hiring the police chief. Members of the accountability commission would not be appointed by the mayor, said Yates, but elected to for four-year terms by city voters.
The budget for the police department would largely remain under the purview of the mayor, who currently proposes a budget that the city council approves. “The commission would have the final word on policing and really the only time that the mayor or city council would be involved would be during budget negotiations with the [Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis],” said Yates.
The coalition that was behind last fall’s ballot measure, Yes 4 Minneapolis, is not affiliated with the Minneapolis for Community Control of Police petition effort.
Minneapolis-based police reform group Black Visions Collective also supported Question 2 on the November ballot. But after the election loss in November, the group has decided against joining the current effort. “We’re trying to explore models outside of policing to try and keep us safe,” said Kandace Montgomery, an activist who works with Black Visions.
Montgomery also said the group doesn’t see the value in a community board with some input on policing. “Oftentimes, I’ve seen community control boards and things like that that actually create a vehicle or pathway for creating more funding for police,” said Montgomery. “The research we have seen from other cities is that they don’t actually offer the level of police accountability that folks hope for.”
To get on the ballot in 2022, the petition requesting a ballot question needs to be signed by roughly 12,000 registered voters — at least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in Minneapolis in the last state general election — by May. If that happens, it would then need 51 percent of the vote in fall 2022 to be established via the city charter.