After George Floyd, Minneapolis voters weigh replacing police department

Incumbent mayor Jacob Frey puts an “I Voted” sticker on his one-year-old daughter Frida Jade Frey as he casts his ballot with his wife Sarah Clarke, as voters decide on whether to abolish the police department and replace it with a new department of public safety in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Nicole Neri

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Minneapolis voters may decide on Tuesday to scrap their police force for a reimagined department that takes a holistic approach to crime and its causes, 18 months after the murder of George Floyd sparked global protests for racial justice.

Supporters say what the ballot calls a Department of Public Safety is badly needed after decades of failed attempts at police reforms.

Opponents in the city of some 430,000 people say it is a mistake for Minneapolis with crime on the rise. Policing needs to be more equitable, they say, but reforms should take place within the existing structure.

The city was thrust to the center of the U.S. racial justice debate in May 2020 when officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee against the neck of Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced in June to 22 1/2 years in prison.

Three other officers charged in Floyd’s death face trial in March.

Democrats, normally allies in the largely progressive Midwestern city, have split over the ballot question. Many fear dissolving the department will provide easy election fodder for Republicans nationwide ahead of November 2022 congressional elections.

Opposing the measure are Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo; Mayor Jacob Frey, up for reelection on Tuesday; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Governor Tim Walz.

Some of the state’s best-known progressives – such as U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution – support the change.

Nearly all of the dozens of Minneapolis residents interviewed last week said they were confused about how a new public safety department would operate, even those who support it.

If voters approve the creation of the new public safety department, the mayor and the city council would then analyze what type of support residents need – from armed officers responding to violent crimes to mental-health and addiction specialists to address situations where a traditional officer with a gun is not required.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller)

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