The two Sept. 23 commentaries on the city charter amendment ("No plan should inspire a 'no' vote" and "Change begins with a 'yes' vote," Opinion Exchange) present impassioned rationale for their positions, for and against the amendment. But with lingering questions about clarity of language recently played out in the courts, and concern about lack of a plan for reforming of the Minneapolis Police Department, many voters are finding it difficult to choose "yes" or "no."
Here is what is clear to me. Minneapolis needs an adequately staffed, well-trained, competent and compassionate Police Department committed to upholding the law and protecting all of our citizens equally. And, we need a broad, effective plan to address the needs of those who require the support and assistance of human services experts, as part of a public safety program. More broadly, we must effectively address the scourge of systemic injustice that has lived in Minneapolis too long.
No matter how this amendment vote plays out, whichever side wins, the hard work must begin immediately. This includes positive, collective engagement by the mayor (whoever it may be), the City Council (all of it), the Police Department (including the police union), the Chamber of Commerce, as well as business and community leaders. And most especially, we need the help of the police officers themselves, to work with us in shaping a system that works for all. Too much to ask? Demanding less is sure to fail and will leave us, 10 years from now, asking, "Why didn't we act?"
Susan Sisola, Minneapolis
In the year-plus since the death of George Floyd and the riots, looting and destruction that followed, we have seen calls for the defunding of the police and a demonizing of the force that has resulted in huge numbers of officers choosing to resign or retire. It is not a coincidence that murder and violent crime have increased dramatically, leaving many wondering if the lives of gunned-down children somehow matter less than those of felons resisting arrest. We can argue about the righteousness of the anger at the police as well as the effect of COVID on the situation. However, what appears undeniable is the relationship between citizens' perception of danger and the increased demand for guns.
Shortly after the riots, I went to Cabela's to buy fishing equipment and was stopped at the door, asked if I was there to buy a firearm and told the demand was intense and quantities were limited. Since then I've inquired in various places and discovered that ammunition and many guns are commonly not available — not because of legal restrictions or manufacturing problems, but because demand is wildly outstripping supply. Put quite simply, if people sense that the police are unable to protect them, catch criminals or get guns off the street, they may become more likely to choose to protect themselves and their belongings. I know many people who aren't right-wingers who now own guns. Again, we can argue about whether or not having a gun actually serves to protect an individual, but we can't really argue about whether or not this is taking place.
My present concern is that City Question 2 will increase the public perception that the police are being pushed to the sidelines and that people will therefore be more likely to feel the need to own a gun, if not actually carry one. Unintended consequences. Be careful what you hope for.
Jeff Dufresne, Minneapolis
Recently, I received a mass mailer from Yes 4 Minneapolis in support of proposed City Question 2 — the Public Safety Department amendment. It listed several benefits from the amendment. The problem is that none of those benefits are in the actual amendment. Yes, it is a good idea to have mental health workers, social workers, substance abuse specialists or violence interrupters available when needed. But none of that is actually in the amendment. The City Council in Minneapolis and the mayor could vote to provide those services now or in the future regardless of whether the amendment passes.
What the amendment actually provides for is substituting a Department of Public Safety for a Police Department, eliminating the requirement for a minimum number of police officers, but requires the new department to report to the City Council rather than just the mayor. It is likely to result in the loss of our current police chief. The Yes 4 Minneapolis group should at least try to defend its actual proposal.
Tom Tinkham, Minneapolis
Fear is what I hear rumbling beneath our conversation about public safety. I get it. I love my vibrant north Minneapolis neighborhood, and it's terrifying when drivers blow through stop signs, shouting matches erupt and weapons are drawn. And I know that my tall, Black, beautiful 12-year-old is scared of police.
Fear never brings out the best in us. Fear prevents listening, stifles creativity and makes us easy to manipulate. When it comes to public safety in Minneapolis, there are unfortunately people manipulating our fear. The claim, for instance, that there is "no plan" for the new department of public safety is a lie spread by people who benefit from the status quo.
There is a plan for the new Department of Public Safety. Police could still respond to violence and crime. And, we'll have qualified, unarmed professionals who can respond to mental health crisis, homelessness, or addiction, as well as expanded programs to prevent the violence we've been seeing. The new department would have the transparency and accountability that policing currently lacks.
My fear tells me we need more people with guns. My faith tells me we can prevent violence. My fear tells me not to trust anyone. My faith asks me to believe in us, in the people of this city, and in our messy, imperfect multiracial democracy. My fear wants a quick fix. My faith tells me it's worth investing in real change. My faith tells me that we are greater than our fear.
Jane McBride, Minneapolis
Thanks for the timely editorial highlighting the five-year study results of the St. Paul Police Department's program on martial arts and de-escalation training, first instituted in 2015 for the academy, later for in-service officers ("Encouraging results from St. Paul police," Sept. 21). Though we all applaud the immediacy of instituting innovative officer training programs, public enthusiasm for follow-up tracking to measure long-term results is of equal importance. Learning and adapting to new work practices in any large organization doesn't happen overnight. So also, the furtherance of increased police officer competence and self-confidence can be difficult to measure. The SPPD continues to meet these challenges.
In these days of ongoing budget-cutting of public services, including that of police departments, it can be tempting to not allocate funds to evaluate departmental program changes. Clearly, the SPPD has resisted that pressure. As the Star Tribune Editorial Board so aptly summarizes, "The ongoing debate over how to improve policing can be vague and aspirational, lacking in concrete data and outcomes. St. Paul's program provides both — all the better for officers and the public."
In an earlier (November 2020) article, the Star Tribune staff called our attention to a more recently implemented SPPD program emphasizing employee well-being and mental wellness. Learning how that program has been working, some years from now, is something we all will need to hear.
Training the public how to measure local police performance is as important as the police training itself. Many thanks for pointing us in that direction.
Judith Monson, St. Paul
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