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Minneapolis City Council Member On New Rules For The City Police

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As this summer began, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police brutality. Minnesota state lawmakers have since restricted police use of chokeholds, among other policy changes, under the Minnesota Police Accountability Act. And tomorrow in Minneapolis, a new policy that raises the threshold for use of force by police, including use of deadly force, goes into effect. To talk about these changes, we're joined now by Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison.

Welcome.

JEREMIAH ELLISON: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So what I understand is, under this new policy, officers in Minneapolis will be required to use the lowest level of force possible when interacting with suspects. They will be banned from shooting at moving vehicles in many circumstances. They will be required to justify their use of force or be met with disciplinary action. Let me ask you. This is a policy that both the mayor and the police chief endorsed. Where do you stand on this?

ELLISON: I think that the policies are encouraging. They're definitely a move in the right direction. I also think that the - these are a lot of the things that the public already assumes we abide by and that our police abide by. And so I think that the bar is certainly low enough that these are welcomed improvements. But I don't know that anybody is necessarily all that confident yet that they're going to make a huge difference in...

CHANG: What do you mean?

ELLISON: ...How police treat people.

Well, you know, I mean - I know that members of the public certainly would hope that police would - are already using the lowest amount of force required to de-escalate a situation. And I think that what we have is, we're telling police what they have to do; we're certainly tightening the bolts on that front. But what are, really, the increased accountability measures? I think that time will see whether or not that's really there.

CHANG: Well, what kind of increased accountability measures would you have liked to see?

ELLISON: Well, you know, I think a few things. One is, I do think that we need to continue to explore what it means to continuously shrink the footprint of what police officers do. We ask police officers to head into situations that probably aren't appropriate for a police officer. You know, mental health crisis has been sort of one of those very obvious realms in which we deploy police where we probably shouldn't be.

But I also think about the murder of George Floyd, and I think about the fact that that was a 911 call where our officers were responding to a supposed fake $20 bill. I think that shrinking the footprint of what the police respond to is probably a measure that's going to go a long way in reducing the number of critical incidents that residents find themselves in when dealing with the police.

I also think that, you know, the mayor's right to call for stricter arbitration. He named that as something that he would like to see the state take up. But I think that there are things that we could be doing at the city level to make it easier - to make the arbitration process, which is our disciplinary process for police officers, stick a little bit harder. And I'm not sure that this necessarily moves us one way or another on that front.

CHANG: Well, with respect to this particular policy, according to the mayor, you know, even if more aggressive use of force could be justified under, say, state or even federal law, in Minneapolis, officers will be held to a city standard. Do you think that piece of the policy is a step in the right direction?

ELLISON: You know, we'll see how it holds up under arbitration. Maybe there's no conflict there. Maybe in the arbitration process, the police federation could say, hey, look. This is what the city says, but here's what the state says - and our arbitrator goes with the state standard. We just don't know yet.

CHANG: Now, earlier this summer, I understand that you joined forces with eight other council members, and you pledged to dismantle the police department. That charter amendment will not be appearing on the November ballot. So I'm curious - what do you think is next?

ELLISON: I think time has shown that the council, thus the people Minneapolis, don't actually have much control over the police. So I think we have to keep pushing to get this on the 2021 ballot. And I think that getting that community feedback, continuing to engage the public on the ways they expect to be kept safe and to come up with ways in which the city can meet that standard, I think, is what we have to continue doing.

CHANG: Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison. Thank you very much for joining our show today.

ELLISON: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.