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Police reform will get another look by Minneapolis City Council

New council member wants to take another approach to creating a public safety department

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Elliott Payne, shown campaigning in November in northeast Minneapolis, is proposing a new department of public safety for the city. “This is not a rehash of the debate we concluded during the last election cycle, nor is it an effort to eliminate the police department,” he said.
Star Tribune / TNS file photo

MINNEAPOLIS -- Newly elected Minneapolis City Council member Elliott Payne announced plans to propose a new department of public safety at Thursday's council meeting.

Payne, who represents northeast Minneapolis, wanted to make one thing clear.

“This is not a rehash of the debate we concluded during the last election cycle, nor is it an effort to eliminate the police department,” he said.

A majority of the 13 City Council members were newly elected in November. While many problems from the past persist, Payne, who supported the charter proposal to eliminate MPD, said the new council can and should work together with Mayor Jacob Frey to enact what he calls a “both/and” approach to public safety.

“This is an invitation to you all, my colleagues, an invitation to work together to build unanimous support for a better system of public safety,” Payne said.

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A recently released study of Minneapolis police staffing found that the department could free up more officers by using alternative responders for certain calls.

Payne said that study also found there are enough officers to perform the core functions of policing. But there need to be more resources for alternatives to sending armed police officers on calls where they are not needed.

Payne said changes are needed to stop both police killings and gun violence among community members.

“I personally cannot accept that the death of Amir Locke is the cost of doing business as usual, and I know that we can keep our community safe while avoiding these types of tragedies,” Payne said.

Another newly elected council member, Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who represents the eastern part of Minneapolis, offered support for Payne’s idea, but repeated her calls since Locke’s killing for Frey to resign. Wonlsey Worlobah said any new department should not be led by the current mayor, noting he has had sole authority over MPD for the last five years.

“But what City Council can do as a body is (to) resist being silent, and actively challenge an entity that continues to harm our city, and that the mayor allows them to do this,” she said.

Wonsley Worlobah and others have criticized Frey for not doing more to rein in the Police Department. An initial press release describing the raid at the Bolero Flats apartments referred to the man shot and killed by an officer as a “suspect.” Later, interim police Chief Amelia Huffman admitted the man, identified as 22-year-old Amir Locke, was not a suspect and was not named in the search warrant. Huffman also said Locke appeared to be pointing the gun at officers; but in the body camera video, the gun appears pointed toward the floor.

Frey announced this week that he is working with national experts and the city’s Department of Civil Rights to develop a new policy around serving all warrants within the next few weeks, and until then, MPD cannot request or serve no-knock warrants. Frey also said the department is reviewing its policies around disseminating information after critical incidents involving police.

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“We need massive reform and culture shift,” Frey said. “We have problems, that’s what we need to dig into, full on right now, and we are doing so.”

Council members are again considering police reforms in the midst of shocking incidents of gun violence.

Council members LaTrisha Vetaw and Jeremiah Ellison asked for the council to keep north Minneapolis in their thoughts after a 15-year-old high school athlete and a bus driver were shot Wednesday in separate incidents across the wards they represent.

Vetaw, who was opposed to the public safety charter amendment from the November election shared concerns for three children who were on board but not hurt physically but saw their bus driver get shot in the head yesterday.

“Think about them, think about their families,” Vetaw said. “I am looking forward to working with all my colleagues on doing our best to ensure these types of things stop happening in our community.”

Supporters of the effort to eliminate MPD and create a department of public safety say they will still push council members to change the status quo.

Minister JaNae Bates, who is the communications director for the nonprofit ISAIAH, backed the charter amendment in November. Bates said even people like her, who felt MPD was beyond the point of reform, still have a voice and will hold accountable the 13 council members and the mayor who are charged with building a more holistic approach to public safety in the city.

“People have to lean into the full conviction that they are not about to let another person die,” Bates said. “Not let another person die and say we didn’t do all we could to prevent it, and that’s by both police violence and gun violence in the city.”

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Unlike the charter amendment effort that failed to get public approval, Payne’s proposal will require unanimous support from the council, mayor and majority of the charter commission. He will officially introduce his public safety amendment next week.

The Minneapolis Police Department is being investigated by the state’s Human Rights Department and U.S. Department of Justice. Those probes could result in mandated reforms. It is unclear when those investigations will be completed.

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