22 March 2022
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to create an Office of Community Safety that would include police, firefighters and violence prevention staff.
“This is our chance to make good on enacting change that can and should and, I hope, will last generations,” the mayor told City Council members in a public meeting. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of meeting this moment … to do right by our residents and businesses.”
The mayor’s proposal is part of a broader pitch to create a cabinet that would include four high-ranking staffers to help him supervise city departments under a new government structure that hands him more power over their daily operations. It comes at the same time a small group of council members are working on their own effort to create a public safety department.
Both efforts are in their early stages and come months after an election that was watched across the country as people waited to see whether — and how — Minneapolis would fulfill a promise to transform public safety following George Floyd’s murder by police.
In that election, voters rejected a proposal that would have replaced the Police Department with a new public safety agency, removed minimum funding requirements for police and granted the council more sway over police operations. Voters approved a separate proposal that handed the mayor more power over city departments’ daily operations and prohibited council members from interfering with his efforts to do that.
The city’s elected leaders are beginning to debate how they should interpret those election results and best fulfill voters’ wishes as they aim to put the bulk of the new, “strong mayor” system of government in place by year’s end.
Groups that sought to sway Minneapolis voters during the November election offered diverging opinions Tuesday about the mayor’s proposal.
Some groups that opposed the effort to replace MPD — and supported the creation of a “strong mayor” system — said they still were digesting Frey’s proposal and looked forward to learning more details.
“Voters last election made clear their mandate for a more planful approach to public safety in Minneapolis,” said Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for All of Mpls, who previously worked for Frey. “And this marks an important move in that direction.”
Groups that supported the ballot measure to replace the MPD and opposed efforts to give Frey more power dismissed the new plan as window dressing.
“It’s meaningless. It’s words on paper right now,” said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, a spokesperson for TakeAction Minnesota. “One of the main reasons why we had a ballot amendment in November was to increase public oversight over the Minneapolis Police Department. This doesn’t do that.”
The mayor’s proposal
Frey on Tuesday presented the City Council’s Committee of the Whole with his thoughts on how they should set up the new system of government.
The mayor’s proposal would create a cabinet with four high-ranking staffers who would report directly to him and help him oversee the other municipal operations. That cabinet would include a chief of staff to oversee the mayor’s office, the city attorney and the heads of two new offices focusing on public service and community safety.
The Office of Public Service would include a variety of city offices, such as finance, health, economic and community development, 311, and others. The Office of Community Safety would include 911, fire, police, emergency management and neighborhood safety (a division that also would include the Office of Violence Prevention now housed in the city’s health department).
The mayor told council members he believes this structure would allow agencies working on public safety efforts to more efficiently coordinate with each other, while leaving in place a clear chain of command.
Frey, in an interview, said he imagines the person leading the Office of Community Safety as “someone with a safety and law enforcement background.” He later clarified that person wouldn’t have to be a police officer.
“We want someone that has a deep understanding of the law,” he said. “We want someone who has great expertise as a changemaker, as well as managing a whole lot of people.”
Debating how to interpret the vote
In the committee meeting, Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah noted that residents spent a lot of time during the past election engaged in a “robust public conversation about whether or not law enforcement or MPD should actually be included in that Department of Public Safety.”
Referring to the proposal that would have replaced the MPD, she told the mayor: “I’m somewhat concerned: Is this Office of Community Safety a rebrand of Question 2, which will essentially override the will of the voters?”
Frey called that “over simplistic.” He noted that he had supported efforts to better coordinate public safety programs but had opposed the provision in the ballot measure that would have given council members more sway over police.
“It is not the same as Question 2,” Frey said. “I do believe it takes items where there is broad consensus and it takes out pieces where there wasn’t.”
A council proposal
The mayor unveiled his proposal at a time when some council members are finessing their own effort to create a public safety department that could include many of the same divisions.
Some of the council members who support that effort, though, say they believe MPD needs to have better accountability efforts in place before it can effectively fold in with other departments.
“It’s very promising to see the direction that he’s going in, but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered around accountability,” said Council Member Elliott Payne, who is leading the council’s effort. “That’s the work we need to get into.”
Neither the mayor nor the council can act alone. Payne is pursuing his proposal via an ordinance that would require approval from all 13 council members — and the mayor.
The city’s charter, which serves as its constitution, gives council members responsibility for establishing and organizing city departments, meaning parts of Frey’s plan likely would need a sign-off from the council as well.
“Let’s work together on this,” Frey told the council Tuesday. “That would be my ask.”
Staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.