The Chronicle

Cops to become ‘peace officers’ in radical plan


WASHINGTON: A proposal to disband the Minneapoli­s police force and replace officers with social workers after the murder of George Floyd has divided Democrats.

The plan to replace the force with a new Department of Public Safety has dominated the build-up to mayoral and council elections in the city next month.

A year after Mr Floyd’s killing by a policeman and the Black Lives Matter protests across the US, police could be renamed “peace officers”.

The vote is viewed as a litmus test for police reform in a big city before the US midterm elections next year. Activists forced the proposal onto the ballot, gathering thousands of signatures in support of a change to the Minneapoli­s city charter. Success at the polls next month would be a huge victory for the reform movement.

The issue, however, has split leading Democrats along ideologica­l lines. Opponents say the reforms go too far, and that aligning the party with unpopular calls to dismantle or defund the police will result in Democrats across America being routed at the midterms.

Under the reforms, the police would be part of a broader department, replacing some officers with social workers, crisis managers and mental health experts. Supporters aim to shift responses to crime away from law enforcemen­t towards a new emphasis on social care.

Minneapoli­s has already begun transferri­ng jobs traditiona­lly done by the police to civil department­s.

“We have an exciting opportunit­y to do something that has not been done before,” said JaNae Bates, of the “Yes 4 Minneapoli­s” coalition of activists behind the scheme.

The department “will be a fully holistic department that includes police officers as well as licensed profession­als and experts, in order to ensure that folks stay safe,” she said.

The Minneapoli­s reforms are supported by Ilhan Omar, a progressiv­e representa­tive for Minnesota, and Keith Ellison, the state’s Attorney-General. Leading centrists, including Amy Klobuchar, a senator for the state, and Tim Walz, the Governor, oppose the plan and say it is too radical when Minneapoli­s faces rising crime and murder rates.

Many Democrats believe a backlash against the defund movement lost the party seats at last year’s elections.

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