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Minneapolis, St. Paul City Council candidates outline their stances on public safety

MinnPost asked the candidates in every race across both cities about their top policy priorities and whether police budgets should be decreased to fund alternative forms of public safety.

Residents in Minneapolis and St. Paul will be heading to the polls on Nov. 7 as every City Council seat in each of the cities will be up for grabs in the upcoming municipal elections.

As public safety remains a top-of-mind issue for many voters, MinnPost asked the candidates about their top policy priorities and their positions on whether the police budgets in their respective cities should be decreased to fund alternative forms of public safety. Here are some of their responses:

Public safety as a priority

More than three years after the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, the future of public safety citywide remains a vital issue for voters and candidates alike, and each of the candidates’ different visions for that future will likely play a role in how voters choose their next City Council member.

To that end, just more than a third of all of the candidates vying for a council seat in Minneapolis listed public safety as a top policy priority if they were elected, though how they would set out to enact that priority differs among the candidates.

In Minneapolis, Ward 8 challenger Soren Stevenson, for example, who is running to unseat Council President Andrea Jenkins, said he hopes to help establish a public safety system that takes a comprehensive public health approach using alternative responses to police.

“It’s time for us to transform our approach to keeping folks safe by expanding our options for safety and investing in violence prevention, mental health co-responders, and addiction services,” Stevenson said. “By being proactive to address the basic needs that people have we can prevent crime and build a safer city.”

In St. Paul, though the city’s Police Department hasn’t been under as intense scrutiny as its counterpart in Minneapolis in recent years, just under half of the two dozen council candidates who responded to MinnPost’s questions still had public safety as one of, if not the first priority on their lists should they be elected.

“Our city is facing many challenges: road and infrastructure repairs, building the housing our residents need, and public safety. I intend to work diligently on each of these priorities and more, but I want to especially focus on public safety,” said Ward 3 candidate Isaac Russell. “People and businesses are concerned about safety downtown and we need to continue to invest in youth programming.”

Police funding

When asked whether the candidates’ respective cities should reduce Police Department budgets and reallocate those dollars to fund policing alternatives, the candidates in the St. Paul races overwhelmingly came out against taking funds away from the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD).

The reasons for maintaining SPPD’s current budget ranged from recent upticks in youth violence to carjackings and other crimes. But many of them called for a both/and approach to funding alternatives to policing like behavioral crisis response teams and violence prevention.

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“Our officers will need the additional support that comes with providing alternatives to traditional policing. Investing in mental health resources, stronger equipped emergency responders, and providing a comprehensive approach to public safety benefits everyone,” said St. Paul Ward 7 candidate Cheniqua Johnson. “This isn’t an either/or situation; we can do all the above.”

Ward 2 incumbent Rebecca Noecker echoed those sentiments, and pointed to alternatives to traditional policing within SPPD that are already funded by its budget, including crisis intervention training for officers and the department’s COAST unit, which focuses on mental health.

“Over the last eight years, I have focused on providing enough resources for our police department to do its traditional and non-traditional work effectively, while ensuring we have high expectations for police conduct,” she said. “I plan to continue that approach.”

A handful of candidates on the St. Paul side did call for police budget reallocation, emphasizing investment in community-led public safety alternatives.

“By directing resources towards community investment, we can effectively address the underlying causes of crime & create a healthy path towards healing for everyone. This means prioritizing access to sustainable housing, supporting economic development and job training programs, and investing in education and mental health services,” said Ward 1 candidate Anika Bowie. “Through proactive investment in our community, we empower our neighbors to improve their lives and contribute positively to our community’s well-being. Help the community help themselves.”

In Minneapolis, where the “Defund the Police” movement following Floyd’s murder evolved into a ballot initiative to replace MPD that failed in 2021, more candidates were in favor of reallocating some of the department’s budget.

“We have an incredible opportunity to bring about transformational change by reallocating the resources we have traditionally allocated to the police department to alternative public safety solutions,” said Ward 6 incumbent Jamal Osman. “This doesn’t mean we do not invest in the Minneapolis Police Department. It’s about adopting comprehensive strategies that emphasize de-escalation, mental health and healthcare support — and proactive social services for victims of crime.”

But the majority of respondents said MPD funding should not be reduced.

“The city should maintain MPD funding levels while investing more in alternative responses to armed policing,” said Ward 12 candidate Luther Ranheim. “We deserve and must have both of these.”

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Some of the candidates agreed that maintaining MPD’s budget going forward will be critical to helping to reform the department due to the incoming costs associated with implementing both the consent decree from the Justice Department and the settlement agreement from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Like many of the St. Paul respondents, several of the Minneapolis candidates asked, “Why not both?”

“Each order requires the city to spend significantly more to recruit, train, and retain officers,” Jenkins said in her response. “But we must also invest more in alternatives to policing, like the existing violence interrupters program and behavioral crisis response teams.”