MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The frontrunners in the Minneapolis mayor's race offer wildly different plans for the city's police, though there are some questions they're not yet willing to answer ahead of Tuesday's election.
City voters will decide whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency to take a public health approach to crime. A yes vote on the ballot measure, called Question 2, would eliminate the current minimum staffing requirement leave it up to future city councils and mayors how to staff the new agency.
Incumbent Jacob Frey opposes Question 2, while top challengers Sheila Nezhad and Kate Knuth both say they'll vote yes. Because they're on the same ballot as the police amendment, they're forced to confront two possibilities: that voters tell them to leave MPD intact or direct them to craft a new public safety agency.
At least 296 officers have left MPD since January 2020. Most of the departures came after the murder of George Floyd, the summer 2020 riots, and during the debate over the future of police.
As a central theme of his campaign, Frey says he and Chief Medaria Arradondo are the most capable stewards to steer the department out of the abyss.
Yet Arradondo's contract is up on Jan. 2, 2022, and neither he nor the mayor are saying what will happen then. This week, Arradondo wouldn't commit to staying even if voters reject Question 2 and let him keep his job, saying he had "not had those conversations with my family."
"My commitment is to reappoint the chief. The question is one of Chief Arradondo," Frey said in an interview last week when asked why the pair wasn't telling voters. "He has my 100 percent commitment, and I’ve told him directly that. I also know this is a heavy job. He has to have these conversations with his family, and I respect that. I’m not putting him on a firm timeline or deadline as to when he makes his decision, but I can tell you mine is already made."
Abolishing the police
Nezhad has long advocated for abolishing MPD and has credited activists for the now-infamous June 2020 scene of nine City Council members standing on a Powderhorn Park stage with the words "Defund Police."
In July 2020, Nezhad linked the burning of MPD's Third Precinct to getting City Council members to support abolition.
"I think getting the City Council to say that they are going to begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department – which was a statement we wrote for them and they pledged to -- burning down the precinct had a lot to do with that," Nezhad said during a University of California-Davis Humanities Institute forum. "We got there because of the black youth and youth of color in Minneapolis who were absolutely fearless in the streets, day after day after day. That’s why we got there – period."
Asked by FOX 9, Nezhad declined to say whether the precinct burning was a good or bad thing.
"What an interesting question," Nezhad said in an interview. "I think that what we saw last summer was an outpouring of people’s pain in addition to an influx of people who came from outside the city.
"I wish we could’ve had compassionate response from our mayor at that time and that our neighborhoods would’ve felt safe all the time."
Asked again whether the precinct burning had been a good or bad thing, Nezhad said, "I think it’s complicated for all those reasons that I stated."
Police staffing levels
In the face of election uncertainty, city human resources administrators this week told police officers that they would not be fired in the immediate aftermath of a yes vote on Question 2.
Still, the long-term outlook for police staffing is murky. While Nezhad and Knuth both favor a new public safety department, they've not said how many officers they will fund long-term.
Knuth has said she'll continue current funding for two years, enough to support 770 officers. But she hasn't outlined specific staffing levels beyond that.
"I have been clear that a department of public safety with police as an essential part of it is how we effectively more forward as a city," Knuth said in an interview.
Nezhad said she favors 888 staffers in the new public safety agency but hasn't said how many of those 888 would be sworn police officers. Instead, she said she would add more mental health responders and advocates for domestic abuse victims and sexual violence victims.
To address attrition that has left MPD far below its authorized strength of 888 sworn personnel, Frey says he wants five new police recruit classes in 2022 that prioritize diverse candidates.
"We will get back there and simultaneously, it will take time. You can’t hire an officer on Amazon," Frey said.