Minneapolis City Council approves new ballot question for initiative to replace Minneapolis Police Department 

On Sept. 7, the Minneapolis City Council held an emergency meeting to adopt language for a citizen-initiated measure to replace the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) with a Department of Public Safety (DPS). The 12-1 vote came hours after District Court Judge Jamie Anderson struck down the then-existing language as “vague to the point of being misleading.” Sept. 7 was also the deadline for the ballot to be finalized for printing ahead of the election on Nov. 2, 2021. 

The language that Judge Anderson enjoined was a 47-word question. The new language includes a 110-word question and an additional 73-word statement addressing several topics not mentioned in the prior version, including:

  • the DPS employing a “comprehensive public health approach,” with functions determined via ordinance;
  • the mayor and council, rather than just the mayor, being involved in maintaining and commanding the department; and
  • the elimination of the police chief and police minimum funding requirement from the city’s charter.

The City Council also changed the phrase strike and replace the MPD with a DPS to remove and replace the MPD with a DPS. Both versions state that the DPS would include licensed police officers should officers be considered necessary.

Judge Anderson said that ambiguities in the prior ballot question “risk creating a ‘chaotic situation’ in Minneapolis.” There were three issues, in particular, that Judge Anderson said were ambiguous: (1) whether the Minneapolis Police Department will cease to exist as of Dec. 2, 2021; (2) whether the position of police chief would be eliminated; and (3) whether a funding mechanism would exist for the new Department of Public Safety.

The citizen-initiated ballot measure followed the Minneapolis City Council’s attempt to craft an ordinance replacing the MPD following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, was charged and sentenced for murder and manslaughter. The Minneapolis City Council approved legislation for a ballot in 2020, but, on Aug. 5, 2020, the city’s charter commission voted 10-5 to take an additional 90 days to evaluate the proposal and not send the proposal back to the City Council, blocking the measure from appearing on the ballot in 2020. 

In 2021, the campaign Yes 4 Minneapolis launched a ballot initiative to replace the MPD. Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions Collective, is the board chairperson of Yes 4 Minneapolis, and JaNaé Bates, a theologian and communications director of ISAIAH, is the campaign’s communications director. Through July 27, 2021, Yes 4 Minneapolis had received $1.48 million, including $500,000 from Open Society Policy Center and $430,383 from MoveOn.

The ballot initiative has the support of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-5) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D). Opponents include U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-2), Gov. Tim Walz (D), and Mayor Jacob Frey (D). A campaign called All of Mpls is opposing the proposal. Through July 27, All of Mpls raised $109,465. 

The ballot initiative is one of three policing-related local measures on the ballot for Nov. 2, 2021, that Ballotpedia is covering. The others include a ballot initiative in Austin, Texas, to require a minimum number of police officers; and a ballot initiative in Cleveland, Ohio, to create a commission to oversee police misconduct investigations and discipline.

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