As former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin awaits sentencing after his conviction on three counts of murder in the death of George Floyd, policymakers in Minneapolis are trying to figure out how to improve policing.
Concurrently, the Justice Department has launched an investigation into the city’s police department to address possible patterns of discrimination and excessive force.
“We very much welcome the investigation,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told All Things Considered on Wednesday. “I was on the phone with the DOJ earlier today, and I believe strongly that it’s an opportunity to continue working towards that deep change and accountability that we know that we need in the Minneapolis department.”
The MPD has been under scrutiny for the last year, but Black people’s grievances against the department go back decades. Now, the city council is mulling giving voters an option on the ballot this November to replace the police department outright with a new entity based around public health.
While Frey doesn’t see eye to eye with advocates of the #DefundThePolice movement, he was forthright about the need to significantly reform the police and Minneapolis at large.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In your view has there been a pattern of unlawful, unconstitutional policing in Minneapolis?
We’ve certainly had issues in our Minneapolis Police Department, like many other police departments throughout our country. And now I feel like we’ve reached a point when people are pushing very clearly for change. We’re making sure that the precision of our actions right now match the precision of the harm that has been inflicted over quite some time. And let’s be clear, we’ve got a mandate right now for that change. These cycles of trauma and tragedy, they’re not going to interrupt themselves, so we need to act.
Let’s stay with the changes that you would like to see happen. What are your prioritizing?
There have been a litany of changes that have already taken place. There are also more changes that are underway and that need to happen. Our Black community continues to demand these changes of the highest order. And that’s everything from the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act at the federal level, that’s state law changes and we need safety beyond policing as well. Noting that not every single 911 one call needs response from an officer with a gun.
The Minneapolis City Council is working to give voters an option on the ballot to eliminate the police department. Now in past you have not supported moves like that. Where are you now?
I very much support a comprehensive strategy to public safety that includes the aspects that I just talked about, whether it’s a mental health co-responder approach or social workers or individuals that have experience working with those experiencing homelessness. That’s important and that doesn’t need to have response from an officer. The part where we diverge is twofold. One, I do not believe we should be defunding/abolishing the police department in a way that we would be significantly reducing the already very low number of officers that we have on a per capita basis in Minneapolis. And two, I don’t support a move that would have the head of public safety or the chief of police report to 14 individuals. I believe that that diminishes accountability and it clearly diminishes the ability to provide clear direction.
How are you thinking about helping your city heal?
Our city has gone through a barrage of trauma over this last year, in many respects culminating in the trial and the verdict that we just saw yesterday. This is a moment perhaps centuries in the making — a centuries in the making reckoning around racial justice. And also, I want to note that we don’t want to shortchange that moment in a way that we limit the conversations to simply aspects of policing. The conversation needs to be about economic inclusion. It needs to be about rights in housing. We need to be making clear moves towards racial equity in every shape and form, towards justice and to healing. And that can’t simply focus on policy reforms and policing itself. Of course, that’s part of it. But we need to go well beyond.