Yes 4 Minneapolis public safety amendment explained

The ballot amendment would shift power away from the Minneapolis Police Department and instead create a department of public safety — here’s what that means.

by Olivia Stevens

For over a year, activists have been advocating to defund the police and shift power to other public safety professionals. Some of these activists say they see the Yes 4 Minneapolis charter amendment as their chance to make this happen.

On Nov. 2, citizens of Minneapolis will be able to vote “yes” or “no” on whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) with a new Department of Public Safety. The new structure would aim to take a more comprehensive approach to public safety through multiple divisions of public health professionals.

The fight over the question

Local coalition Yes 4 Minneapolis petitioned for the charter amendment to end up as a city question on the ballot for the election. JaNae’ Bates, director of communications for the organization, said the process to get it on the ballot has been long and difficult, but she is hopeful that “democracy wins out” in the end.

“It’s in the hands of the people of Minneapolis to make a choice … realizing that if they choose anything else, they are choosing to stay stuck in the status quo,” Bates said.

Under the current Minneapolis charter, the mayor has complete control over MPD, with the power to appoint and discipline all employees and make rules within the department. It also requires that the city council funds a force of at least 1.7 employees per 1,000 residents, though the city is about 100 officers short of the 730 that are indicated as required by the most recent census.

The ballot question has cycled through multiple iterations due to challenges over the wording. Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed the ballot language twice and two different lawsuits were brought against it, but the city council passed the updated version on Tuesday.

The current question includes an explanatory note, which says that: “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.”

Implications of amending

If 51% of voters decide to vote “yes” to amending the charter, it will go into effect. If a voter doesn’t fill out the question, it will not count toward the total.

As stated in the ballot language, the immediate result of passing the amendment will be the creation of a new Department of Public Safety and the end to minimum staffing requirements for police. The city council will share decision-making authority with the mayor over department operations.

“It creates the framework where we can make the change,” Ward 3 Council member Steve Fletcher said. “Setting up a leadership structure that decenters policing a little bit, so we can imagine other alternatives, is one important component of making necessary reforms.”

If the amendment is passed, Fletcher said he imagines the council will pass multiple ordinances quickly after the election. He said they would first likely move the Police Department into a division of the Department of Public Safety, which would also include a division of violence prevention and a division to handle mental health responses.

However, some believe that changing the charter is unnecessary and will do more harm than good. Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for All of Mpls, a DFL activist group against the ballot initiative, said meaningful police reform can still happen without the charter being changed.

“This notion that the city council is powerless to fund safety beyond policing, the notion that our city’s charter has locked us into a police-only model of public safety … is patently false,” Fatehi said.

Fletcher said he agrees there are other ways to make changes to the city’s system of public safety, but currently the mayor is the only politician who can directly change the operations of the Police Department.

“The mayor has had four years now to make these policy changes, and he hasn’t done it,” Fletcher said. “And many mayors and many chiefs before then also failed to do it. A charter change can’t be about this mayor and this chief and this council; it has to be about how we are going to govern for many mayors and many chiefs and many councils.”