Talking Points

The problem with the rush to disband the Minneapolis police

Minneapolis residents won't get to vote this fall on a ballot measure to eliminate their city charter's mandatory ratio of police officers to population. Nixing that proportional requirement is one step in dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, a plan that gained majority support on the city council after George Floyd was killed during an MPD arrest in May.

The ballot measure delay was imposed Wednesday by the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which argued council members pushing for an overhaul haven't adequately explained what they'll do next. "The council says, 'Trust us. We'll figure it out after this is approved. Trust us,'" said the commission's chair, Barry Clegg. "Well, I don't. ... We need more time to fill in these blanks so voters can make a decision based on an actual specific plan and not the promise of one."

Clegg's demand is reasonable. The best modern example we have of unmaking an entire police department is from Camden, New Jersey. The new department there has had some remarkable successes. It also hired back most of the old department's officers and now has more officers overall. Minneapolis residents should know what they're voting for: What, exactly, will change in the new "Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention"? How is this not the same cops by a different name? How will violence actually be prevented?

Black Minneapolitans particularly deserve answers to these questions, and some have for weeks raised objections to the city council's move toward sweeping changes without acceptably elaborating its alternative. Activist Raeisha Williams, for example, supports major MPD reforms but called the council's haste "grotesque" if it cuts back on emergency response services "when they had nothing else in place for who was going to protect the community the right way."

This local skepticism was reflected in a national Gallup poll released Wednesday. Black Americans mostly oppose defunding the police: 61 percent said they want police presence in their area to stay the same, and 20 percent want more policing. The problem isn't necessarily how many police there are but how they're policing. Black communities can be subject to over- and under-policing at once: too much harassment over petty concerns while frightening, violent crime goes unsolved. A rushed plan, heavy on symbolism, will be ill-equipped to address this paradox.