By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
More than 17 months after the murder of George Floyd by Police Officer Derek Chauvin, Minneapolis residents are headed to the polls to try and different form of policing.
Voters will go to the polls on November 2 to cast ballots on an initiative to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety.
The measure would amend the city’s charter, eliminate the police department, and put into place an agency that would provide a comprehensive public health approach to public safety.
The mayor and City Council would determine a commissioner and establish protocols for the department.
The most prominent supporter of the measure are groups like Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of more than 100 organizations and businesses including the ACLU of Minnesota, Take Action MN, Showing Up For Racial Justice, and Reclaim The Block.
The organizations said public safety would improve by including law enforcement officers and mental health and substance abuse experts who would join cops on calls where needed.
The department would also employ violence interrupters in place of cops who usually handle potentially violent situations.
Organizers for Yes 4 Minneapolis have said the overall goal is to reduce police officers’ role in calls involving homeless individuals, mental health issues, and substance abuse.
“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,” JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for Yes 4 Minneapolis, wrote in a statement.
“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.”
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison, who successfully prosecuted Chauvin, have expressed support for the ballot measure.
However, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, all Democrats, have publicly opposed the measure.
Ellison told NBC News that the status quo in Minneapolis “is bad and problematic.”
“Do you want to let go of what you know is not great, but you know it? Or reach for something that’s uncertain because it’s in the future, and we haven’t done it yet? I’m saying: Let’s have some hope that we can figure this out together as a community. Let’s try something different,” Ellison stated.
The Attorney General pointed to police departments like Newark and Camden, New Jersey, which achieved similar changes to great success.
In his commentary, Ellison noted how the police department in Camden, where more than 90 percent of residents are Black or Hispanic, was disbanded in 2013 and rebuilt despite opposition from police unions and some residents.
“Those communities have said, ‘You know what, let’s reform,’” Ellison told the network. “But the thing about Newark is, Newark did its changes under a federal consent decree. So I’m saying to the people of Minneapolis, let’s not have the federal government make us reform. Let’s just choose it.”
The report noted that, in 2014, the Justice Department reached an agreement with Newark, the state’s largest city, to allow a federal monitor to watch over a police force that it found had repeatedly violated the rights of its citizens, especially Black people, who account for a majority of the population.
NBC News reported that Newark police officers did not fire a single shot in 2020 or issue any payouts to settle police brutality settlements. The murder rate has also dropped in Newark in recent years.
“The goal is to make long-term policies to reflect our values of safety, humanity, and dignity, not individual personalities or people,” Yes 4 Minneapolis officials wrote in a fact sheet.
“By voting Yes, you are voting for a funded, accountable, and expanded Department of Public Safety. This means police are working with qualified professionals, like mental health responders and social workers, to make all our communities safer.”