Minneapolis Voters Could Overhaul City Government Structure

Voters in Minneapolis are deciding Tuesday whether a new Department of Safety will replace the city's police department.

The death of George Floyd by the hands of a white police officer sparked a national outcry and launched an "abolish the police" movement, leaving authoritative issues overpowering anything else on the city ballot.

"No matter what happens, the city of Minneapolis is going to have to move forward and really wrestle with what we cannot unknow: that the Minneapolis Police Department has been able to operate with impunity and has done quite a bit of harm and the city has to take some serious steps to rectify that," said Minister JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for an amendment campaign promoting a New Department of Safety.

The Associated Press reported the new Department of Public Safety, if approved, would take a "comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions" that "could include" police officers "if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety."

Citizens also were deciding if the city will favor a more conventional organization that would give the mayor clearer authority instead of the existing "weak mayor, strong council" system.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Minneapolis Voters to replace police system
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey casts his vote on Election Day alongside his family at the Marcy Arts Magnet Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis. Christian Monterrosa/AP Photo

Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey was also in a tough fight for a second term, facing a bevy of opponents who have attacked him for his leadership in the wake of Floyd's death. Frey opposed the policing amendment. Two of his leading challengers in the field of 17 candidates, Sheila Nezhad and Kate Knuth, strongly supported the proposal.

The proposed amendment to the city charter would remove language that mandates that Minneapolis have a police department with a minimum number of officers based on population.

Supporters of the change argued that a complete overhaul of policing is necessary to stop police violence. They framed it as a chance to re-imagine what public safety can be and to devote more funding toward new approaches that don't rely on sending armed officers to deal with people in crisis.

But opponents said the ballot proposal contained no concrete plan for how the new department would operate and expressed fear that it might make communities already affected by gun violence even more vulnerable to rising crime. The details, and who would lead the new agency, would be determined by the mayor and the City Council.

Two nationally prominent progressive Democratic leaders — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the Minneapolis area, and state Attorney General Keith Ellison — both supported the policing amendment. But some leading mainstream liberals, including Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, opposed it and feared the backlash could lead to Democratic losses across the country in 2022.

Support didn't cleanly follow racial lines. Opponents included several prominent Black leaders, including some who have been top voices in the police accountability movement.

While results from the ballot questions were expected Tuesday night, the mayoral race was a question mark because the city uses ranked choice voting. If no candidate reaches 50 percent in the first round of counting, the winner would be determined after a tally Wednesday of second- and potentially third-choice votes.