Policing has become a divisive issue during the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign.
Donald Trump has positioned himself as the candidate of law and order, while Joe Biden has said he believes policing should be re-imagined.
The international conversations surrounding police reform started after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police on May 25.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday in June, nine Minneapolis city councillors made a pledge that echoed around the world.
“Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department and end policing as we know it,” Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said to a crowd that had gathered at Powderhorn Park on June 7.
The council members vowed on that day to end the Minneapolis Police Department, but six months later, that has not happened — and there’s a good chance it never will.
“People in our community, fully aware of the awfulness of what had just happened in our city, wanted to take a stand, but saying this would be a solution to our problem seemed a bit false,” said Linea Palmisano, one of three Minneapolis city council members who refused to sign the pledge.
Disbanding the city’s police department requires a change to the Minneapolis city charter and would need to be voted on by residents. The earliest that could happen is next year.
In the meantime, the Minneapolis police department has already undergone a profound change since the spring — nearly 20 per cent of its officers have left the force.
“Our police department has seen not only an unprecedented number of retirements but also a lot of medical leave and disability kinds of leave, and that has left us tremendously short-staffed,” said Palmisano.
As a result, response times have increased and violent crime is on the rise.
Still, re-imagining police work and public safety isn’t new for this city, either. In fact, up until last year, the city of Winnipeg had been looking to Minneapolis as an example in improving its own public safety plan.
A partnership between the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (DID) and local police had private security and civilian ambassadors working closely with police to deter crime and offer support to people in non-emergency situations.
“Some of the things that we did this summer was double down on our outreach efforts,” said Shan Zahn, Director of Safety Initiatives with DID.
“One new initiative that we started was the MAD DADs violent interrupters. A big part of outreach is building trust and community trust and they do a really good job of that.”
V.J. Smith heads up the MAD DADS of Minneapolis. The national non-profit was formed in 1989 by a group of African American fathers who were fed up with gang violence in their community.
“Relationships, the Minneapolis Police Department doesn’t have the relationships that we have,” said Smith.
“If you say, ‘okay there’s a bunch of violence,’ but there’s nobody there to reach out to these people who are hurting or in pain because they’re sick and tired of injustice, sick and tired or inequality, that’s what we bring — we bring hope.”