Minneapolis voters Tuesday rejected the activists who had been trying to get rid of the city's police department and replace it with a new department intended to provide a public health–oriented approach to public safety.
By a vote of 44 to 56 percent, Minneapolis voters rejected Question 2, which would have amended the city's charter to abolish the city's police department. At the same time, it would have created the Department of Public Safety, a city entity whose primary responsibility would have been "integrating its public safety functions into a comprehensive public approach to safety, including licensed peace officers if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department."
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020, a massive nationwide push to reform policing also gave more attention and visibility to activists with a more radical idea—abolishing the police and replacing them with an approach that focuses on the public health issues that underlie a lot of criminal activities, like mental health issues, drug addiction, and extreme poverty.
Choosing "abolish the police" as a slogan was perhaps not a winning marketing plan—most people want police to actually fight crimes and arrest criminals who threaten harm even if people don't necessarily agree on what constitutes criminal behavior. In the run-up to the election, the Associated Press talked to a black resident of Minneapolis who made it pretty clear that there was some sort of middle ground between being beaten up by cops for no reason and abolishing policing altogether and leaving the community with no decent response to violent behavior.
"Everybody says we want the police to be held accountable and we want fair policing. No one has said we need to get rid of the police," Marques Armstrong told the Associated Press. "There needs to be a huge overhaul from the ground up, but we need some form of community safety because over here shots are ringing out day and night." Several local Democrats, including Mayor Jacob Frey and Gov. Tim Walz, opposed the initiative.
And yet, Question 2 managed to get 44 percent of the vote, which suggests that a healthy chunk of people are not fine with the status quo. As Armstrong noted, Minneapolis citizens do want reforms and accountability for their police—not necessarily some vague promises of reforming what police do. It wasn't even clear what the outcome of Question 2 might be: The description of the Department of Public Safety flat out stated this new agency could hire a whole bunch of police officers. So while the proposal appeared radical, it also may well have ended right back at the status quo without any additional changes or restrictions on how police actually treat citizens. There was nothing in Question 2 that actually made police more accountable for bad conduct or provided additional citizen tools for oversight.
Compare the Minneapolis vote to the different outcome in Cleveland Tuesday night. In that city, voters overwhelmingly supported Issue 24, a ballot proposal that rewrites the city's charter in order to give citizens more oversight of the police department and more authority to respond to officer misconduct. It grants the city's Civilian Police Review Board the power to initiate complaints against police officers and takes the power to remove members of the board away from the police department and gives it to the mayor. Issue 24 also establishes as 13-member Community Police Commission that will have the power to determine whether the police chief or the Civilian Police Review Board has appropriately disciplined officers found to have engaged in misconduct and to set policies for training and hiring police officers.
That's actually a big deal, and Issue 24 passed overwhelmingly, getting nearly 60 percent of the vote. The Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association union opposed the ballot initiative and is promising to fight it in court. Jeff Folmer, president of the union, said the prospect of police actually being held accountable by the citizens for their behavior "will be the downfall of Cleveland."
Cleveland has a troubled police department, but more troubling is how cops there get away with all sorts of bad behavior. In 2012, Cleveland police surrounded and shot 137 bullets into a car killing two people, all because police thought they heard a gun fire. No gun was found. One officer who leapt onto the hood of the car and shot into it 15 times was ultimately cleared by a judge because they couldn't prove that any of his bullets actually hit the victims.
Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed by former Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann, responding to a report of a man in a park with a pistol. Rice was carrying a replica toy gun, but Loehmann opened fire on the teen immediately upon arriving at the scene and never gave Rice a chance to explain or even surrender. Loehmann was fired, not for his behavior, but for lying on his application and concealing the fact had been deemed unfit for duty at another police department. A grand jury in Cuyahoga County declined to indict him. The police union fought Loehmann's termination and tried to get him reinstated.
More recently, two Cleveland plainclothes cops who assaulted a man on his own porch and arrested them allegedly without identifying themselves first out of some suspicion that he might have been up to no good were granted qualified immunity by a judge preventing the man from attempting to hold them financially liable for violating his rights.
And so we shouldn't be surprised at how different the vote in Cleveland turned out when compared to Minneapolis. In Cleveland, voters were given a specific, detailed plan (the initiative is 16 pages long) showing how the citizens would have more power to respond and guide police conduct. In Minneapolis, voters were give two whole paragraphs vaguely describing an entire new police department.