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Minneapolis Ballot Guide: Controversial Public Safety Ballot Question

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The 2021 Minneapolis election is nearly here (early voting is available) and voters will encounter three questions that propose amendments to the City Charter.

One of the more controversial ballot questions, City Question 2, addresses removing the city's police department and replacing it with the Department of Public Safety.

Here's a brief overview of the question and what it means.

Question in full: 

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note: This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.

YES ______

NO ______

What happens if the "yes" vote wins?

The Minneapolis Police Department would be removed from the city charter and replaced with the Department of Public Safety. The mayor of Minneapolis would then nominate a commissioner of the new department and the city council would need to approve and appoint the commissioner.

As the question language stated, the public safety department would employ a "comprehensive public health approach" determined by the mayor and city council by ordinance. Unlike the police department, the mayor would not have complete power over the public safety department.

The mandatory minimum of police staffing would also be erased on the city charter.

Exactly what the new department would look like, and how many peace officers would be employed, is not yet clear.

To be clear, the amendment would not abolish the police, just the requirement that the city have a police department.

Charter amendment questions require 51% or more of the votes cast on each question to pass.

What would happen if the "no" vote wins?

The Department of Public Safety would not be created and the Minneapolis Police Department would remain on the city charter.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Police Department is seeking $27 million in funding to address a "staggering" number of police officer departures as violent crime surges in the city.

Arradondo said there are 598 active sworn officers this year compared to 853 in 2019. The budget proposal calls for increased funding to rebuild core services.

What would happen to the police chief if the "yes" vote passes?

Many, including Mayor Jacob Frey, have expressed concerns that if the referendum passes, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo will be out of a job. That looks to be the case -- at least on the city charter.

The explanatory note says that the amendment would mean that the police department "and its chief" would be removed from the city charter.

Essentially, the city would not be required to have a police chief anymore, but Arradondo wouldn't be immediately removed.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, who supports replacing the police department, wrote in a Star Tribune op-ed that Arradondo could become the commissioner of the new department.

Former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels, who previously sued to change the wording of the referendum, said it will indeed cost the chief his job.

"Yes, [but] they might hire him back," Samuels said in early September.

In other words, it's unclear what Arradondo's status will be if the amendment passes. He has not said what he'll do should the amendment pass, but did say that putting the department under control of the city council and mayor would add "additional layers of bureaucracy."

A poll released in September found that Arradondo is popular with Minneapolis residents -- 55% approve of the job he's doing and 22% disapprove.

This same poll did show that white respondents favor getting rid of the police more than Black respondents.


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