When concerns were recently raised about Minneapolis police officers’ involvement in using the drug ketamine on agitated persons, the mayor and the police chief made an immediate policy decision. Mayor Jacob Frey directed the chief to prohibit officers from influencing the medical decisions of EMS staff.
That directive could be implemented right away because the MPD chief reports directly to the mayor.
But under an ill-advised proposal to change that reporting structure, such decisions couldn’t be made so quickly. Having 14 decisionmakers — rather than one — in charge of MPD would dilute police accountability rather than sharpen it.
Late last month, Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon proposed amending the city charter to give the 13-member City Council and the mayor equal authority over the police department. Currently, the charter gives the mayor the power to “make all rules and regulations and … general and special orders necessary to operating the police department.”
Gordon believes he and his fellow council members should have more control over police operations through shared oversight. It’s a bad idea that shouldn’t be approved.
Some community and council supporters of the plan think it would make police more responsive to the public; that it would properly put the police chief in the same category as other city department heads who are overseen by the mayor and council. They argue that all elected city officials should be engaged in and responsible for any police reform.
But rather than enhancing police accountability, the change would likely produce conflict and confusion. The chief would have 14 different bosses, with inevitably competing priorities. Consistent policing policy citywide could be harder to achieve. And Minneapolis voters would be uncertain about which elected officials to hold accountable at the ballot box when they are unhappy with policing.
Under the current city charter, the lines of authority and responsibility are clear. Still, the council has some impact on police supervision. The mayor can nominate a police chief and recommend dismissal. But it takes a majority vote on both the executive committee and the council itself to hire or fire. And the council ultimately sets the MPD budget.
Council Member Gordon floated the joint oversight proposal last year; this Editorial Board opposed it then as we do now. This time, the sudden introduction of the charter change puts it on an ambitious timeline for passage. The amendment could be introduced by the full council to the charter commission on July 20. The commission would then consider it, and ballot language must be approved by Aug. 25. That schedule leaves precious little time for public hearings and input, let alone the council’s own process for adopting ordinances and setting policy.
But in case the plan is rushed through in time to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, voters should soundly reject it. Having a chain-of-command operation with multiple supervisors is not the best way to strengthen police management.