Minneapolis Voters Reject an Amendment to Replace the Police Department

The amendment, which grew out of the anger over the murder of George Floyd, called for replacing the city’s police force with a new Department of Public Safety.

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Minneapolis voters reject an amendment to replace the Police Department.

Nov. 2, 2021, 9:57 p.m. ET

Nov. 2, 2021, 9:57 p.m. ET

A “Yes On 2” sign outside of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers headquarters in Northeast Minneapolis.Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis residents rejected an amendment on Tuesday that called for replacing the city’s long-troubled Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety, The Associated Press projected.

The ballot item emerged from anger after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd last year, galvanizing residents who saw the policing system as irredeemably broken. But the amendment’s failure showed that even in a liberal city where skepticism of the police runs deep, many Americans are not prepared to get rid of the police.

Minneapolis leaders now face the challenge of filling staffing shortages in a Police Department that is about a third smaller than it was before Mr. Floyd’s killing, and at a time when the city is facing the most homicides since the mid-1990s. Even though voters were bitterly divided over the charter amendment, the city has been largely united in a view that meaningful reforms to policing are needed.

“We all agree that we can’t sustain as we are now with the way policing has been,” said Brian Herron, the pastor of a church on the city’s North Side and an opponent of the amendment. But he added: “We don’t have time to reimagine. We got bodies dropping in the streets. We got innocent folk being killed.”

Supporters of the measure had framed it as an opportunity to rethink law enforcement and perhaps become a national model for a different approach.

“For every new change, someone had to be the first,” said Sheila Nezhad, who supported the amendment, and who decided to run for mayor after working as a street medic following Mr. Floyd’s death. “This is our opportunity to lead.”

In the days after Mr. Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis became the center of a push to defund or abolish the police, and the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot grew out of that. But while many in Minneapolis have deep concerns about the current policing system, the city was deeply divided on whether the ballot language went too far.

Moderate Democrats, including Mayor Jacob Frey, called for improving the current department. An uptick in homicides led some residents to question the wisdom of shedding the Police Department for a new public safety agency. And a lack of clarity on what the amendment would actually do scared off some voters.

“Policing is the No. 1 issue, but I don’t see my opinion reflected,” said Leanne Fanner, 54, who works in insurance and said before Election Day that she intended to vote against the measure. “I do think we need systemic reform of the Police Department — systemic and accountable reform.”

The amendment called for discarding minimum police staffing levels for the city, and getting rid of the Minneapolis Police Department altogether. Under the amendment, the City Council would have more oversight over the agency that replaced the Police Department, which would be focused on public health and, according to the ballot language, “could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary.”

Supporters of the measure, who largely steered away from describing the plan as one to “defund the police,” framed it as a way to help their city move past the pain of the past 18 months and create a new, more equitable system. And they have disagreed with some opponents who say this is not a wise moment to replace the Police Department, given rising gun violence in the streets.

“I find it fascinating that folks are saying, ‘No, this is the wrong time to do things that directly address the things that are bad right now,'” said JaNae Bates, a minister who helped lead a campaign supporting the amendment and believes that having more social workers and community violence workers would do a better job reducing gun violence than would traditional policing.

Many Minneapolis residents say they remain shaken by the events that unfolded in the city, from the video of an officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, to the protests and arson and looting that followed.

“We are going through some of the hardest and most difficult circumstances our city has ever faced,” Mr. Frey told high school students during a debate this fall.

The question of how to respond has divided Minnesota’s top Democrats. Representative Ilhan Omar, whose congressional district includes Minneapolis, and Keith Ellison, the state attorney general, supported replacing the Police Department. Their fellow Democrats in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, opposed it.

Since Mr. Floyd’s murder, many large cities, Minneapolis included, have invested more money in mental health services and experimented with dispatching social workers instead of armed officers to some emergency calls. Some departments scaled back minor traffic stops and arrests. And several cities cut police budgets amid the national call to defund, though some have since restored funding in response to rising gun violence and shifting politics.

But no large city went as far as getting rid of its police force and replacing it with something new.

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