The Park Board doesn't run hospitals. The school district doesn't build roads. And the city of Minneapolis doesn't provide social or mental health services. By state law, Hennepin County provides those services to city residents, at an estimated annual cost of $250 million.
So when candidates for public office, such as City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, claim that the city of Minneapolis spends very little on social and mental health compared with policing, they are not being honest. They have created a false issue to get your vote.
A few days ago we read "Mental health responders program delayed to Nov." (Sept. 17) about Cunningham's so far unsuccessful efforts to launch a city mental health program in line with his call for a public-health-based public safety approach.
It is no surprise that his efforts have been frustrated. The city of Minneapolis faces crippling limitations as it tries to replicate — or compete with? — mental health services provided by Hennepin County. It takes infrastructure, time and money to triage calls, bill insurance, comply with HIPAA and collaborate with other mental health providers, including hospitals in the metro area. Why duplicate an existing system?
Cunningham has persisted in this misguided effort even though, for the last two years, virtually the entire mental health advocacy community has tried in vain to convince him that the city shouldn't try to duplicate Hennepin County services. A good example of how city and county can collaborate is the COPE (Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies) program, in which Hennepin County social workers accompanied Minneapolis police officers on calls requiring mental health expertise. The partnership has been suspended.
Advocates advise instead working with the county, which has what the city does not: the legal mandate, funding, infrastructure and expertise to do this critical work, in which the price of failure can be human lives.
The moral of this story is: Don't be fooled by electioneering based on trumped-up issues.
This letter was submitted by MplsTogether and Minneapolis residents Michael Belzer, MD, former Hennepin County Medical Center chief medical officer (1990-2016) and retired University of Minnesota Medical School associate dean; Thomas Davis, MD, retired Allina Health internist, St. Mary's Health Clinics volunteer physician; Monica Eischen, retired Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team lead and public health educator; Anthony Moulton, PhD, retired Centers for Disease Control and Prevention senior policy adviser.
CITY QUESTION 2
It won't touch the union
A recent letter writer got it right in pointing out the impracticality of eliminating the police union if the voters in Minneapolis approve the proposition to do away with the Police Department (Readers Write, Sept. 28).
Indeed, it's more than infeasible; it would be illegal.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled two years ago in a precedent-establishing case that the city of Brainerd could not eliminate its unionized fire department, consisting of only five members, and replace it with non-unionized personnel in the midst of a municipal contract with the firefighters union. Indeed, under state law, there is a specific procedure for eliminating a union composed of public sector employees, which parallels the federal law governing private-sector management-labor relations.
Neither permits abrogating an arrangement with a union, even if the contract expires, without going through a laborious negotiation and decertification process.
It can't be lawfully done by a municipality's unilateral action and probably not even if approved by a referendum on a ballot proposition, especially one that is so ambiguous and flawed as the one Minneapolis residents are balloting on now.
Voters ought to take this into account if they think casting a "yes" vote on City Question 2 will terminate the police union; to the contrary it will probably embroil the city in even more contentious, costly, divisive and tumultuous litigation with an uncertain and probably unfavorable outcome.
Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis
The writer is a Twin Cities employment and labor law attorney who represented the Brainerd firefighters.
The Star Tribune editorial "Vote 'no' on police charter change" (Sept. 26) cited a study that "found that adding more police … reduce[d] homicides and [other serious] crimes … . [T]he effect was more pronounced in Black communities." These findings together with the accusation that the main motive behind City Question 2 is fewer police offers a clincher for Question 2 opponents.
Such sophistry oversimplifies the choices. A summary of the study also reported findings the editorial ignored. The researchers did find that "larger police forces save lives and the lives saved are disproportionately Black lives." They also state that larger police forces lead to more arrests for minor crimes and this has an adverse impact "three times larger among Black civilians." They go on to state, "Instead of asking whether we are hiring the right number of police, we can also ask whether policing can become better and more precise — preserving the critical public safety benefits that policing can deliver to disadvantaged communities while minimizing the costs." They cite other crime-reducing initiatives — decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs, recruiting Black and female police officers, "precision policing" and public safety initiatives outside the purview of police departments, like those focused on environmental and economic justice and effective social services.
Listen to the voices proposing a Public Safety Department. These are the kind of initiatives they propose. Public safety for all requires addressing the myriad factors that result in our chronic racial disparities that rank us at the bottom of the barrel and foster unsafe neighborhoods. Building stronger neighborhoods creates safer communities.
Jay Lindgren, St. Louis Park
I read with interest Attorney General Keith Ellison's opinion piece published in the Sept. 27 Star Tribune ("Let the amendment start a conversation"). In it, he attempts to address and/or discount fears that opponents of the public safety charter amendment have. However, he makes no attempt to address perhaps the biggest fear that these opponents have: that there is no substantive blueprint for how the new Department of Public Safety would be structured in terms of administrative roles and responsibilities, or in terms of a huge list of operational aspects such as staffing levels, training, accountability procedures, communications, etc.
Perhaps just as significantly, there is no blueprint whatsoever for the process to create the new Department of Public Safety. Examples: Do individual council members and the mayor get an equal vote in all decisions that go into planning and creating the new department? Will there be an extensive public outreach program to ascertain how all Minneapolis stakeholders want the department to be structured and implemented? What structure will that outreach program have? How will expert testimony help shape the new department? Who will decide what experts to bring to the planning process? What will the duration of the planning process be? And on and on. If the progressive ideals of inclusion, collaboration and transparency are robustly included in the process of designing the new department, it will not be an expeditious one. It can safely be assumed that time-consuming lawsuits will be involved.
Another host of implementation questions arise regarding the interim period between a potential passage of the amendment and the actualization of a new department. To anyone with any experience with local government, it is impossible to imagine that this new department would be designed and implemented in less than six months; a year is certainly possible. What happens in the meantime? It is a safe bet that the current exodus of officers from MPD would accelerate significantly the day the amendment passes (should it pass), and that those who remain would be even further stretched and demoralized. Anyone who thinks that raging violent crime rates in Minneapolis would subside during this interim period is simply delusional. Rather, these rates would likely accelerate as criminals are further emboldened. This is not fearmongering — it is looking reality in the face.
I consider myself lucky to live in St. Paul, so I will not be directly impacted by the fate of City Question 2. However, it is quite alarming to me that a top state official, the official charged with ensuring compliance with the laws of the state, would publicly endorse such a reckless public policy initiative involving law enforcement and public safety.
Peter Langworthy, St. Paul
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