Minneapolis mayor says police changes will increase safety

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced a sweeping set of public safety proposals Monday that he said would make all neighborhoods in the city safe, while increasing transparency and holding police officers accountable.

The proposals are months in the making, Frey said, but were announced Monday after a particularly violent weekend during which a 9-year-old girl was shot in the head while jumping on a trampoline in a north Minneapolis neighborhood. The girl was the second child to be critically injured by gun violence in the last two weeks.

“Right now, our children’s futures are at stake. Our children’s lives are being cut short,” Frey said, adding: “This moment must mark a turning point.”

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The city has been under pressure to make changes to its police department since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground as gasped for air and became unresponsive. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter charges and awaits sentencing, while three other officers await trial on aiding and abetting charges. The four officers also face federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

The Minneapolis Police Department is also the focus of policing  patterns or practices investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and a state Department of Human Rights investigation into whether the agency engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.

The proposals Frey outlined include some immediate changes — including prioritizing funding for officers’ overtime so patrols can increase, dedicating funding to the Office of Violence Prevention to increase community-based interventions and prioritizing funding for additional cameras in high-crime areas.

The plan also calls for new training to prioritize de-escalation. Frey said it also works to address disparities in traffic stops by committing to ending stops for low-level offenses, such as a busted taillight, and by making sure violations such as expired tabs can’t be the primary reason for a stop.

The plan also prioritizes police recruitment, and calls for replenishing the police department’s ranks — which are currently down by a third — and bringing the department to its authorized strength of 888 officers by the end of 2023.

Frey and others who support the plan called it a “both-and” approach — a direct contrast to other proposals that have called for dismantling the department. Frey said he’s aware there could be political pushback, but said it’s time to come together and support a plan for increased safety and accountability.

Sondra Samuels, who is among a small group of Minneapolis residents suing the city for failing to staff the police department and protect residents, thanked the City Council members who were there to support the mayor’s plan.

“The rhetoric around defund has gotten us to where we are today,” Samuels said. “Every single police officers is not Officer Chauvin… We have to cut the games out because our babies are dying.”

On Saturday, 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith was shot in the head and critically injured while bouncing on a trampoline. Her shooting comes just two weeks after another child, 10-year-old Ladavionne Garrett Jr., was shot while riding in a vehicle in Minneapolis. Garrett remained in critical condition Monday.

In other incidents over the weekend, two groups of police officers were attacked in downtown and Uptown early Sunday morning, and a total of three officers went to the hospital with injuries.

Frey said the status quo cannot continue — noting that not even five full months into 2021, 19 children in the city have been struck by gunfire, and there have been 27 homicides.

“We need to move with purpose right now. We need to move with compassion. We also need to move with a sense of urgency that does in fact affirm that Black lives matter,” Frey said.

Funding for these and other efforts will be outlined in the mayor’s budget. Frey will also propose a new multi-million-dollar fund — with money from the American Rescue Plan — that will be dedicated to community-driven groups with expertise in building community relationships and preventing and interrupting violence.

City Council President Lisa Bender, who was among City Council members who called for dismantling the department in the days after Floyd’s death, tweeted Monday that she wasn’t sure what the mayor was proposing, other than plans to propose that some American Rescue Plan funding be used on public safety.

“At the end of the day, this work is about the people of Minneapolis. Community violence is unacceptable and the current system is not working to keep people safe. Police violence is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in any system,” she tweeted. “That is what we need to stay focused on.”

The effort to dismantle the police department and replace it with a more holistic agency was blocked last year after a city commission took more time to review it, and it failed to make it onto the ballot in November. Three Minneapolis City Council members are now pushing a revised version of that proposal that calls for the city to replace its police department with a new Department of Public Safety that would include police officers and “additional divisions… to provide for a comprehensive approach to public safety beyond law enforcement.”

A coalition of activists, called Yes 4 Minneapolis, has also delivered a petition to replace the police department with a new Department of Public Safety and shift authority over the police from the mayor to the City Council. Another group is gathering signatures for another petition that would put control of decisions about the police department under an elected Citizen Police Accountability Council.