Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, demurred when asked if he would abolish the police department – but the nine city council votes will be enough to override Frey’s veto.
Efforts to reform the police have not been sufficient, said Lisa Bender, the Minneapolis city council president.
She said: “Our commitment is to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”
Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis councilman, tweeted that the city will dismantle the police department
“And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together,” he wrote. “We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.”
What will this entail?
It would have been almost unthinkable for any major US city to disband its police department just a few weeks ago, before the harrowing death of Floyd, who was videoed dying on the ground as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
Minneapolis is yet to provide any details of what a new law enforcement system may look like, although Bender conceded there will still be a police department in the short term. She said, however, that most 911 calls are related to medical emergencies and mental health problems, which will be prioritized in funding.
In practice, this will probably involve diverting police funding to treatment services such as mental health counselors and drug addiction experts. While a smaller police force may remain, it won’t be the default body interacting with the community at the time of crisis.
Is this what protesters and campaigners have been calling for?
The slogan has been taken by some to mean abolishing the police, although many campaigners say it would instead involve a radical reprioritization where police budgets are slashed and money diverted to address poverty, mental health and addiction problems.
Criminal justice experts point out that police across the US are currently required to handle situations they are ill-trained to deal with, such as moving on homeless people, domestic verbal disputes and child disciplinary problems in schools. Often, this results in violent and sometimes deadly confrontation.
Several advocacy groups presented their own recommendations for Minneapolis on Monday, which included requiring officers to carry their own professional liability insurance, creating an independent agency to investigate and prosecute critical incidents involving police, mandatory psychological testing for officers, and community participation in negotiating police union contracts.
About 10m arrests are made in the US each year, with black people far more likely to face violent arrests, including shootings, than white people. A small proportion of these arrests are for violent offenses, with the vast majority for relatively minor infractions such as the use of forged money, the alleged crime by Floyd that police were called to deal with.
A new model could involve community-based policing alongside a much larger system of social services that would deal with issues before they escalate into crime.
Police would be demilitarized, removing the armored vehicles, high-powered weapons and teargas used against protesters during the outcry over Floyd’s death, and receive better training on how to deescalate situations without violence. The use of chokeholds and other aggressive methods during arrests would be outlawed.
Some cities have now started to move in this direction. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, has said he will look to shift as much as $150m from the police, just days after agreeing to a city budget that boosted police funding. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said some funding for America’s largest police force will move to “youth initiatives and social services”. Council members in New York, however, are pushing for a deeper rethink of policing, including a $1bn divestment of the NYPD.
Would Minneapolis be the first US city to disband its police department?
Stung by outrage over the police’s repeated killing of people, particularly African Americans, many forces have brought in body-worn cameras for officers and instituted training to improve community relations.
Critics say these measures have been woefully inadequate, however, as evidenced by the continued instances of deaths caused by police, as well as examples of police brutality during arrests and protests. Police officers accused of killing people of colour have routinely avoided being charged and convicted over these deaths.
Some cities have attempted deeper reforms, such as Camden in New Jersey, once considered the most dangerous in America.
Camden made a shift to community-based policing in 2013, dissolving the local police department and using police from the local county instead. Daily non-crisis interactions between police and the community went up, training on de-escalating situations was rolled out, and firm rules on using force as a very last resort – virtually unheard of in the US – were installed. Officers are also required to intervene if a colleague breaks these edicts.
The result has been stark – complaints over excessive police force in Camden have dropped 95% since 2014. But expanding these reforms across the US’s 18,000 police forces is a major challenge due to widespread resistance to change from pro-police legislators and powerful police unions.
Does policing and criminal justice in the US differ greatly from other countries?
The US is somewhat of an outlier in its policing and sentencing compared with other wealthy nations. Six times more people die in police custody in the US than Britain, on a per-capita basis, with American police fatally shooting around 1,000 people in 2018 compared with just 11 such deaths in Germany and eight in Australia.
US police conduct far more arrests than their counterparts in other rich nations, with black men three times more likely than white men to die in these interactions. The justice system also condemns more people to prison, too – the US has more than 2 million incarcerated people, which represents the world’s largest prison population.