Charter commission to Minneapolis city council: Maybe slooooow down on abolishing the police

Has the city of Minneapolis recovered its sanity? Not quite yet, but yesterday’s vote at the Charter Commission may have postponed the biggest insanity. A committee voted 4-2 against moving forward with the charter change ballot measure that would have allowed the city council to abolish the police department in November. Instead, the committee wants the commission to get more time to investigate alternatives — and that means the earliest the ballot measure could appear would be in 2021’s municipal elections:

A working group of the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted Tuesday to recommend keeping a police reform measure off the November ballot — an indication that the commission could slow down the movement to dismantle the police department.

The full commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the proposal, but the 4-2 vote of its working group signaled that some members of the commission feel the push to change the city’s charter is moving too fast. …

The City Council wants Minneapolis voters to consider its own proposal, which eliminates the charter’s requirement for minimum police staffing and replaces the department with a new safety agency.

But all such changes have to go through the Charter Commission, which can’t stop the council’s measure but could delay the process beyond the deadline for adding items to this year’s ballot.

The charter commission could still vote to pass one of the two proposals in the full session. The city council proposal would change the charter so that they could eliminate the police immediately and altogether. The Charter Commission floated a proposal that would only eliminate the staffing requirements in the charter but would require the city to still have a police force, with the intention to eliminate that requirement once the council figured out what they want to do about public safety.

The lack of an actual alternative to police is what convinced the working group to slow the process down. However, there might have been another reason to put it off:

Unlike Giraud-Isaacson, Garcia feels the commission should save this question for next year’s ballot. She said she feared that conversations hadn’t included enough input from Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief. She said she thought it might be helpful to have a more thorough examination of the police department and the police union. And, she said she believes there is plenty that the mayor and City Council can do to change policing without first changing the charter.

“Having a plan, having conversations on multiple levels to prepare for this on the ballot next year, when it is a municipal-focused ballot and the City Council members are also up on the ballot, I think is a very appropriate coalescing of both council members and this ballot question,” Garcia said.

Actually, what this will do will be to allow voters to consider such a ballot measure at the same time as they’re considering what to do with the council members who pushed it. That might be the wisest choice that the commission could make; it wouldn’t stop the idea of abolishing a major-city police department, but it would make city council members think about what voters might do to their careers first. That would make the 2021 election a referendum entirely focused on the performance of the incumbents, and if violence continues at its current pace, neither the ballot measure nor those careers will last long.

That might be even more true if the amateur armed groups that have sprung up in the vacuum left by retreating police continue to grow:

Minneapolis residents in some areas still recovering from rioting and unrest are forming community watch and security groups, some bearing firearms, to fight a surge of crime in the wake of the George Floyd killing in May. At least one neighborhood has put up barricades to keep away outsiders. …

Police say crime has surged in the months since Mr. Floyd’s May 25 killing, in which a now-fired officer was captured on video with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for an extended time. Shootings more than tripled in June to 75 from 24 a year earlier. In the first half of July, there were 43 shootings, compared with 29 in all of July 2019.

Police say the increase in crime follows a pattern seen in Ferguson, Mo., and other places where there have been high-profile officer-involved deaths and protests. Police say that, while some in the city seem to believe police have given up, officers remain on patrol throughout the city.

So far there haven’t been any shootings in connection with the armed patrols, but it won’t take long for problems to arise. Police at least have training on issues like reasonable suspicion and probable cause when detaining or interrogating people. What happens when two different groups of armed citizen patrols come across each other? For that matter, what happens when they see something suspicious? The idea of armed citizen patrols might sound good in theory, but let’s not forget that the same impulse is how we ended up with Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, and for that matter Trayvon Martin’s. Armed citizens get enough training to defend themselves and their homes, but they don’t get training to do police work, and asking them to replace police in keeping the peace without the police is asking for trouble.

When something like that happens — and it will — the city council will have no one to blame but themselves. Hopefully the voters will demand an end to this insanity long before something fatal happens.