Key Minneapolis-area business associations support the proposed police reforms of Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
At the same time, the groups’ spokesman, Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer, has warned Frey and the City Council that the riots following the death of George Floyd in police hands and subsequent calls of council members to “dismantle” or “defund” the police has led some businesses to plan to relocate.
“Virtually overnight the desirability of Minneapolis as a place to maintain or locate business … was diminished,” Cramer said in a letter to Frey that summarized a recent meeting with business representatives.
“While we see it as an absolute obligation to bring to your attention and the attention of council members to the economic impacts … it’s equally our obligation to be part of the effort to develop a better, more effective and just law enforcement and safety program for Minneapolis,” he said in the letter.
The Downtown Council was joined by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Minneapolis Building Owners and Managers Association in drafting suggestions for police reform and public safety.
They disagree with council members who want to replace the police department with a department of “community safety and violence prevention,” including a “law-enforcement services division” that would dilute the mayor’s oversight of the police chief.
But Cramer said, “There will have to be police reforms. They must regain the trust of the community.”
However, he said that the polarizing discussions among city management, council members and police union leadership “perpetuates that we are an unsafe city and in state of paralysis. We have to get behind [the chief’s leadership] proposals.”
Arradondo has tightened rules on use of body cameras and withdrawn from contract negotiations with the police union, which some say have protected bad-apple cops. He and Frey also support state legislation to outlaw chokeholds and strengthen the chief’s ability to discipline officers by banning state arbitrators from reversing or reducing discipline imposed when an officer is demonstrated to have lied on a formal statement, engaged in “unreasonable force” or other egregious conduct.
There also is an ill-conceived rush by some to get the Minneapolis Charter Commission to place on the November ballot an overhaul of public safety before a full airing of issues and consequences.
The president of the police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, also has overstayed his welcome, says the business lobby. Under Kroll, say critics, the union became a shadow command of the department. “The membership needs to think [about] whether Kroll is the right leader to restore community trust,” Cramer said.
The business groups support a strong police department as well as a “continuum of safety strategies.”
Cramer, 30 years ago a moderate council member, subsequently ran one of the Twin Cities largest affordable housing and employment-training nonprofits. He has perspective and experience. The Downtown Council, through its uniformed Downtown Improvement District ambassadors, assists citizens and alerts police to criminal activity.
The DID and partners also supplement police with trained street workers who deal with the homeless and mental-health issues. That frees cops for more dangerous crimes.
“We need a continuum of responses,” Cramer said. “What scares people is the idea that … there is an unwillingness to acknowledge that there must be a law-enforcement component to our public safety strategy.”
The business organizations said in their statement on public safety: “There is an unmistakable and significant negative impact from the framing of a needed discussion about improving law enforcement … as dismantling the police department. Without a clear understanding that policing services will reinvented but not eliminated … we can anticipate the desirability of Minneapolis as a community to live, visit, invest and create and maintain jobs will diminish.
“It is essential that we come together as a community to reimagine policing and public safety. Significantly improved law enforcement is needed and overdue component of an overall continuum of responses to maintain safety for all.’’