This editorial originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and was distributed by The Associated Press.
The ill-conceived proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety has been soundly defeated.
In the face of rising crime, including a 40% increase in carjackings, Minneapolis voters last week rejected an empty plan that featured promises and interpretations of what might happen, but few actual details.
That was always the proposal’s major failing. It would have rolled back minimum law enforcement staffing and funding requirements in a city that already has far too little of both. It also would have extended the City Council’s power over policing and put another layer of bureaucracy above the police chief — if one remained in the new structure — in the form of a commissioner.
No one, however, should take the rejection of the amendment as a vote for the status quo. There is hunger for real change that will finally rid the Police Department of the toxic culture that was on full display with the murder of George Floyd.
The critical elements that allowed that culture to flourish would not have changed under the amendment. A union contract that has protected rogue officers must be renegotiated. State laws that handcuff the police chief from dealing with such officers must also be revisited.
Additional funds will be needed to rebuild the depleted department, ensure that more mental health professionals are available to answer calls, and expand violence prevention efforts. (And, yes, some of that work already is underway.)
Those and other reforms should be enacted — as the Star Tribune Editorial Board has argued for years. We will not stop pressing for real rather than cosmetic changes that will translate into better, more effective policing and a safer community for all.
Whoever leads the city going forward must make public safety and police reform equal priorities.
And that governance structure, as the Editorial Board recommended, is set to dramatically change. In one of last week’s surprises, a ballot proposal to strengthen mayoral oversight won handily, ending decades of a dysfunctional system that saw individual council members attempt to exert power over departments, undercutting mayors’ ability to control their own administrations.
Under this new system, the mayor will function as a chief executive, with full oversight on day-to-day operations of city departments. The council will be charged with developing policy, passing budgets and responding to constituents in their wards. That will be a welcome change that brings Minneapolis in line with other big cities.
In another sweeping change, voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul opted to bring rent control to the state’s two largest cities. The Minneapolis amendment will allow the City Council to develop a policy to stabilize rents. Under state law, cities have to develop a plan first that voters can either accept or reject. That insistence on an actual plan, with details, is sensible and a needed protection for voters who deserve to know what they are getting.
But such is the frustration over rising rents and unaffordable housing that voters were willing to take a chance even though legal challenges are expected.
In St. Paul, where Mayor Melvin Carter easily won a second term, voters approved what may be one of the strictest rent control measures in the country. Property owners there will be prohibited from raising rents by more than 3% in a one-year period even if there is a change in occupancy. Landlords can apply for an exemption.
Both cities must ensure that such new policies bring relief to renters in the form of more stable rents without stifling the development of rental housing overall and limiting incentives to maintain rental properties.