May 25, 2021 - Politics

Minneapolis police reform stalls as violence in the city surges

Text of the an ordinance to replace the MPD and City Hall's spire

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In the city where George Floyd was murdered a year ago today, the calls to defund and dismantle the police have been drowned out by new calls to throw even more resources at the beleaguered department.

Driving the news: A surge in violence in the first half of 2021 has altered the conversation about policing in the city where the national protests against racism and police brutality began.

  • And last summer's pledge by a veto-proof majority of City Council members to dismantle the MPD was thwarted by a citizen commission, leaving that matter to be voted on in November by a city shaken by violence.
  • Minneapolis has reported 32 homicides so far this year, up from 15 at this point last year and just eight for the same period of 2019.
  • In the past month, three children, ages 10 and under, have been caught in the crossfire of gun violence. Last week, 6-year-old Aniya Allen, the granddaughter of an anti-gang activist, died from a shot to the head and two other children remain hospitalized.

Why it matters: Efforts at major policing changes in Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota have been blocked, sidetracked and watered down over the past year, and the recent crime surge could further slow momentum.

Where it stands: After Floyd's murder, Mayor Jacob Frey — who has resisted efforts to dismantle the police — banned most no-knock raids and prohibited officers from shooting at moving vehicles, among other changes.

  • The Minnesota Legislature banned most chokeholds and "warrior training" — programs that make officers more likely to use deadly force — last summer.
  • Efforts by the City Council to get rid of MPD and replace it with "a holistic, public health-oriented approach" were thwarted by the judge-appointed City Charter Commission.
  • That group blocked a ballot initiative to cut the number of police officers mandated by the City Charter.
  • And Frey's most sought-after reform — changing arbitration rules to make it easier to fire bad cops — has not made headway in the Legislature and is unlikely to pass this year.

What they're saying:

  • Sondra Samuels, a longtime North Side resident who is suing the city for inadequate policing, speaking at a press conference last week after the second shooting of a child: "The rhetoric around 'defund' has gotten us to where we are today ... Every single police officer is not officer (Derek) Chauvin."
  • North Side council member Phillipe Cunningham responded at another press conference, saying that reallocating officer funding to social programs would prevent the type of violence the city is seeing now.

Yes, but: The movement isn't over. A group pushing for a reimagined MPD delivered more than 20,000 signatures to City Hall earlier this month, and now a question about replacing the department will appear on the November ballot.

  • Plus: Frey is proposing an end to so-called pretext traffic stops for low-level offenses such as objects hanging from the mirror and busted taillights.
  • But he's also asking City Council for more officers and more money for the department, and on Sunday he called on the state and federal governments to send troops and investigators to help police the city.

Between the lines: There's a whole slate of moderate candidates lining up to run this November against the City Council members who made the defund pledge, and Frey is facing an unusually small field of challengers.

The bottom line: There's still time and there will be more opportunities for major police reform, but what appeared to be a slam dunk 12 months ago is now an uphill battle.

Go deeper:

Crime jumps after court-ordered policing changes

The slow moves to improve police training

Police recruiting suffers as morale hits new lows

The chief diversity officer hiring frenzy

The global impact of Black Lives Matter

Axios-Ipsos poll: Black Americans' police experiences are getting worse

"Defund the Police" lives on as a local movement

Black-owned businesses gain confidence


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