Andrea Erickson said she is torn over the role police should play in this city ahead of the first municipal election since the murder by a Minneapolis police officer of George Floyd.
The North Minneapolis resident said she regularly hears gunshots echoing from hot spots on the outskirts of her quiet residential neighborhood. The lawless driving that many complain about affected her, she said: She was hit head-on by a driver speeding down a neighborhood street in her lane, totaling her new Jeep and leaving her shaken.
"It feels like you are living in a literal war zone," said Ms. Erickson, who is in her 40s and works for a home-mortgage company.
Ms. Erickson, who lives in one of the city’s more diverse wards that hasn’t been spared a citywide uptick in crime, will get to vote on the future of policing among other measures in Tuesday’s local elections.
A ballot initiative would replace the police department in the city charter with a department of public safety that would take a public health approach to safety and include sworn peace officers if deemed necessary. The number of officers in the new department would no longer be set at a required level based on the city’s population. The plan would likely include more money for violence-prevention programs and the diversion of some police calls to social workers and others.
Ms. Erickson said she understands the appeal of getting more police on the street to quiet things down, but she said she also understands those who want systemic change to rein in police excesses that led to Mr. Floyd’s killing and other abuses against the city’s Black residents.
"I’ve been wavering and on the fence about which way I’m going to go because both sides have a valid point," said Ms. Erickson, who is White, adding that she is leaning against the initiative to replace the police department in the charter.
In Tuesday’s election, voters will also weigh in on whether the city council should be able to consider rent control and whether to strengthen the mayor’s role in a city where power has traditionally been shared between the mayor and city council. Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the policing ballot initiative, is facing off against multiple opponents. The limited polling on the race shows Mr. Frey is unlikely to get a majority of votes on the first round, making the outcome hard to predict because of the city’s ranked-choice voting. All 13 city council seats are also up for grabs.
Despite calls from the city council to reimagine policing after Mr. Floyd’s killing in May 2020, activists say changes haven’t gone far enough. Crime has gone up and the police force has shrunk. Tuesday’s election will be the first time the voters will have a say in the future of Minneapolis since the upheaval began.
Phillipe Cunningham, the city council member in Ms. Erickson’s ward, said the charter amendment is a good first organizational step on the path toward a system that focuses on prevention, intervention, targeted enforcement and re-entry into society for felons, to break the cycle of violence.
"That is true public safety. Focusing on just enforcement, we’re never going to be able to actually achieve the outcomes that we want," said Mr. Cunningham, a Black, transgender, queer man and self-described "big nerd," who frequently cites academic studies to back up his positions.
His challenger, LaTrisha Vetaw, a member of the city’s Park and Recreation Board and health policy and advocacy director for a local medical, dental and mental health center and human service agency, says the amendment leaves too many unanswered questions. The city can’t afford to lose any more police officers in the middle of a public-safety crisis, she said.
"We need more police, we really do," said Ms. Vetaw, who is Black, adding that she wants to see a new substation in the ward to speed response times and an aggressive recruiting campaign to restock the ranks of the department with a new wave of officers with better training.
The ballot question has drawn big spending to the municipal election. Yes 4 Minneapolis, the group that wrote the ballot initiative, reported this week that it has raised $1.8 million this year, while All of Mpls, which opposes the initiative, said it has raised nearly $1.6 million.
In Ward 4, where Ms. Erickson lives, public safety was the No. 1 concern cited in interviews with about a dozen voters. The district, bounded by suburbs to the west and north and the Mississippi River on the east, is more diverse and poorer than the city as a whole. Ward 4 is about 39% White and 35% Black, compared with 64% White and 19% Black citywide, according to estimates by Minnesota Compass, a public-interest research project, and U.S. census data. The median household income is $48,500, compared with $62,500 in the city overall.
Crime has surged in the ward and across the city in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s killing and the unrest it unleashed, with the police district that includes the ward accounting for 35 of the 78 homicides in the city so far this year. The ranks of police have plunged amid a spate of retirements, departures and disability claims for PTSD among other issues. The total number of active sworn officers on the force has dropped to 598 from 853 in 2019, according to a recent report provided to the city council.
In a poll sponsored by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, MPR News, KARE 11 and Frontline in September, 42% of the city’s Black residents supported the charter amendment, compared with 49% of voters overall. And 75% of Black voters wanted more police officers, not fewer, compared with 55% of voters overall.
Carmena Milton, a 47-year-old Black homemaker in the ward, said her car was recently totaled in front of her home by a reckless driver. "I’m for the Minneapolis police," she said. "They need to start locking them up. It’s a lot of Black-on-Black crime. They’re killing each other."
C Terrence Anderson, a 33-year-old Black resident of the ward who works as a public-policy researcher at the University of Minnesota, said he hears the gunshots echoing through his neighborhood and is concerned for the safety of his young children.
But in conversations with his neighbors he says it is important to get outside of the "lizard brain" reaction to cling to the familiar and look instead at what research shows on what’s the most effective way to solve endemic violence.
"My neighbors need to be cared for in different ways than just policing," he said.