The Corner

Law & the Courts

Minneapolis City Council: We Pledge to Do Something, as Soon as Our Expert Panel Gets Back to Us

Police officers near the Minneapolis Police third precinct after a white police officer was caught pressing his knee into the neck of African-American man George Floyd, Minneapolis, Minn., May 28, 2020 (Adam Bettcher/Reuters)

From the moment a majority of Minneapolis City Council members announced their intention to dismantle the city’s police department, people inside and outside the city have wondered how exactly that process would work, and what would replace the current force. City Council president Lisa Bender helpfully dished up a healthy serving of word salad when asked about this on CNN:

CAMEROTA: Do you understand that the word, dismantle, or police-free also makes some people nervous, for instance? What if in the middle of night, my home is broken into? Who do I call?

BENDER: Yes, I mean, hear that loud and clear from a lot of my neighbors. And I know — and myself, too, and I know that that comes from a place of privilege. Because for those of us for whom the system is working, I think we need to step back and imagine what it would feel like to already live in that reality where calling the police may mean more harm is done.

And so in the very immediate, we have to lean in to whatever changes we can make in our existing police department. You know, I think we look to cities like Camden, New Jersey, that completely restructured their department, as we build up systems.

And we’ve already done that. We are not starting from scratch. We have invested in community-based safety strategies. We have knowledge in our community across the city. We’ve done an analysis of all the reasons people call 911 and have looked up ways we can shift the response away from our armed police officers into a more appropriate response for mental health calls, for some domestic violence calls, for health-related issues.

And so the groundwork is laid already in Minneapolis for us to build on that, to learn from folks around the world, but really also to listen to our community and put those community voices front and center, as we build up those systems even further.

But now the Minneapolis City Council has spoken, sort of: “The City Council will commence a year long process of community engagement, research, and structural change to create a transformative new model for cultivating safety in our city.” This process will involve creating a “Future of Community Safety Work Group, to include staff from the Office of Violence Prevention, the Department of Civil Rights, the City Coordinator’s Office, in coordination with the 911 Working Group, the Division of Race and Equity, Neighborhood and Community Relations and other relevant departments.”

Longtime students of politics may notice this resembles the tried-and-true maneuver of naming a “blue ribbon committee of experts,” a familiar way for politicians to kick the can down the road and transfer the responsibility for the details of the proposal to someone else. (Nothing in the city council’s resolution requires the council to adopt any proposal from the Future of Community Safety Work Group.)

How exactly will the dismantling and replacement of the Minneapolis Police Department work? The city council will get back to you on that!

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