Officials in Minneapolis have pledged to ‘defund the police’ — here’s how that could work in practice

Demonstrators calling to defund the Minneapolis Police Department march on Hennepin Avenue on Saturday in Minneapolis. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Minneapolis City Council on Sunday pledged to defund the city’s police department, following the killing of George Floyd and claims stretching back decades that the department deploys excessive force.

“Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period,” Lisa Bender, the president of the City Council, said at a rally on Sunday.

Bender said that the council did not have a specific plan for how to replace the Minneapolis Police Department but that it would work with local communities to find a solution.

“We recognise that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” the council said.

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Police officers blocking a road during protests on May 29 in Minneapolis. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Minneapolis groups involved in the process include MPD150, Black Visions Collective, and Reclaim the Block, which have long advocated defunding Minneapolis police.

Those supporting the “defund” movement vary in their views, but there are some common tenets. Here’s what those groups want to see and how policing in Minneapolis could look.

MPD150 and Reclaim the Block

MPD150 says it want to “shift the discussion of police violence in Minneapolis from one of procedural reforms to one of meaningful structural change.”

This would entail:

  • Transferring social service functions from police to community-based agencies and organisations.
  • Replacing the MPD emergency intervention functions “with models not based on military methods.”
  • Redirecting police resources to support community programs.

In an opinion article for Minneapolis’s Star Tribune newspaper, MPD150 said reallocated funds would help its aim of stamping out violent crime.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 6: Demonstrators calling to defund the Minneapolis Police Department march on Hennepin Avenue on June 6, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The march, organised by the Black Visions Collective, commemorated the life of George Floyd who was killed by members of the MPD on May 25. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Demonstrators on Saturday called to defund the Minneapolis Police Department. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

“Decades of social-science research has revealed that the biggest contributor to violent crime is poverty,” it said.

To get to a more peaceful place, MPD150 says the city needs“good, well-paying jobs, affordable housing, healthy food, empowering education, and accessible healthcare.”

Reclaim the Block has called on the council to defund the city’s police department since 2018.

In the run-up to Sunday’s pledge, Reclaim the Block petitioned the council to redeploy police funding to “community-led health and safety strategies.”

For example, if someone called 911 and said someone was a danger to others because of a mental-health crisis, the person responding could be a trained mental-health professional, rather than an armed police officer with the ability to use lethal force.

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Protests on May 30 in Minneapolis. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Similarly, experts in addiction could respond to drug-abuse cases rather than the police.

The groups worked together in 2017 to produce “Enough is Enough” – an in-depth review of 150 years of the city’s police department.

Black Visions Collective

Black Visions organised the DefundMPD march in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“We are demanding safety led by our community and resources to ensure our well being and basic needs,” the group wrote on Facebook, saying Minneapolis was ready to “transition to community led safety.”

Kandace Montgomery, the director, said at a rally on Sunday that: “We’re safer without armed, unaccountable patrols supported by the state hunting black people.”

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Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis on Saturday after coming out of his home to speak during a demonstration calling for the Minneapolis Police Department to be defunded. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Black Lives Matter

The organisation launched a petition on March 30 calling for defunding police on a national scale.

“We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive,” a statement on the website said.

“When we talk about defunding the police, what we’re saying is ‘invest in the resources that our communities need,'” the Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza said on Sunday.

Black Lives Matter sign
Several organisations and collectives called for a gathering to pay tribute to Georges Floyd. Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Patrisse Cullors, another cofounder of the group, told WBUR that it was nonsensical for the police to respond to cases like mental health or domestic-abuse crises.

Cullors said an alternative model could see other agencies tasked with such cases.

“What we’re asking for is a reinvestment in how we understand what’s needed in our communities,” Cullors said.

“Why is law enforcement the first responders for a mental-health crisis? Why are they the first responders for domestic-violence issues? Why are they the first responders for homelessness?”

Minneapolis City Council

The council said it had to work with local groups to reach a specific resolution. Nonetheless, some members have expressed their preferences.

Bender tweeted on June 4 that she would like to replace the police “with a transformative new model of public safety.”

However, Bender said that would not happen right away, and she told CNN that in the immediate future the Minneapolis Police Department would remain in some form.

The city of Minneapolis.

Steve Fletcher, a member of the council, tweeted on June 2 that he wanted to “start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.”

In an op-ed article for Time magazine, Fletcher said the council had suggested measures in the past that he would now like to see implemented.

“Dispatch county mental health professionals to mental health calls and fire department EMTs to opioid overdose calls, without police officers,” he wrote.

“We have similarly experimented with unarmed, community-oriented street teams on weekend nights downtown to focus on de-escalation. We could similarly turn traffic enforcement over to cameras and, potentially, our parking enforcement staff, rather than our police department.”

“We can resolve confusion over a $US20 grocery transaction without drawing a weapon or pulling out handcuffs,” Fletcher said.

That line was a reference to the situation leading up to Floyd’s arrest and death while being subdued by the police.

What do experts on police reform think should happen?

Christy E. Lopez, a codirector of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown Law School, wrote in The Washington Post that defunding the police “means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need.”

Others emphasise that the police would still exist but must undergo monumental change – the sort the City Council says is impossible in the police department’s current form.

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Minnesota state troopers providing protection as firefighters battled a fire on May 29. Associated Press/Jim Mone

Tracie L. Keesee, a cofounder of the Centre for Policing Equity, wrote in the same newspaper that the US should become “a country that doesn’t use law enforcement as its default response to unaddressed epidemics such as homelessness, generational poverty and substance abuse.”

Alex Vitale, the author of “The End of Policing,” wrote in The Guardian that the Minneapolis Police Department had not made any progress despite several attempts to change its training and processes.

“The alternative is not more money for police training programs, hardware or oversight. It is to dramatically shrink their function,” he said.

“We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face. We must invest in housing, employment and healthcare in ways that directly target the problems of public safety.”

Can there be any opposition to the council’s decision?

Some decisions made by the City Council can be vetoed by the mayor, Jacob Frey, who has said he does not supporting defunding the police.

The council motion to commit to defunding the police has support from nine members, however, which is large enough under council rules that Frey could not override it with a veto.

A woman clenches her fist during a Black Lives Matter rally in Parliament Square in London, Saturday, June 6, 2020, as people protest against the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, USA. Floyd, a black man, died after he was restrained by Minneapolis police while in custody on May 25 in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A woman at a Black Lives Matter rally in Parliament Square in London on Saturday. Associated Press

There also appears to be significant support for the move in the state at large.

Nothing will change overnight, however, and it could take years for a coherent policy to be established by the council and community groups.