In the weeks since George Floyd died after being pinned by since-fired Minneapolis police officers, activists and some City Council members have called for defunding, dismantling or abolishing its police department. They used the terms in a variety of ways. Here’s a rundown of what we do — and don’t — know about what those calls might mean for the future of the city.
Q: Why is the City Council talking about dismantling or defunding Minneapolis police?
A: The killing of Floyd shocked the community’s conscience and launched two weeks of global protests. But the problem is long-standing. The city’s poorer and minority residents on whom police disproportionately use force are often wary of officers.
Q: What do Minneapolis City Council members mean by dismantling the department?
A: Nine City Council members gathered in Powderhorn Park in early June and promised to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” They did not present a detailed plan for what that would mean. In conversations since then, multiple council members have talked about boosting funding for programs aimed at preventing violence and evaluating whether other employees — such as EMS workers or mental health professionals — could respond to some types of calls currently handled by officers.
Q: Is dismantling different from defunding?
A: Dismantling frequently implies abolition of the current structure. Defunding refers to shaving the budget. Behind both is the idea of shifting resources from a paramilitary police force to education and social services with the aim of reducing socioeconomic disparities.
Q: Will there be police on Minneapolis streets this summer?
Q: Can the Council “defund” the police and stop paying them?
A: Not entirely. The council must follow the City Charter, which requires the funding of “a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and provide for those employees’ compensation …” Some council members are considering allowing voters to decide whether they should remove that requirement from the charter and instead require a broader public safety department.
Q: What would replace police?
A: The idea generally would be to have a social services-based approach, possibly using medics to handle drug overdose calls, and health care and social services professionals to tend to mental health matters instead of officers. But even council members who want to dismantle the police are still debating the specifics.
Q: Has any U.S. city done this?
A: There have been attempts at shifting focus. The police force in Camden, N.J., shifted training into heavily emphasizing de-escalation tactics. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has embraced removing $150 million from the $2 billion police budget. Last year, 911 operators in Austin, Texas, began asking callers whether they were seeking police, fire or mental health assistance.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747