Revamped Minneapolis Park Board moves toward restoring dependence on police

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and for good reason! After making a big deal out of abruptly cutting some ties with the Minneapolis Police Department following George Floyd’s death, the newly revamped Minneapolis Park Board appears to be moving toward acknowledging its mistake and reversing the decision.

The activist board that controversially allowed homeless camps in parks across the city underwent a major overhaul in the 2021 elections. Seven new commissioners were elected as three incumbents lost, while four incumbents chose not to run at all.

Now a key committee has voted to recommend officially restoring ties with MPD in a meeting covered by the Star Tribune.

Two years later, as pandemic restrictions on gatherings fade, a Park Board committee has voted to restore its previous relationship with Minneapolis police so they can help staff what will likely be a busy summer of events in the parks.

“I do worry that if we don’t repeal that action, and we don’t choose to reopen those collaborations that we’ve had in the past that we limit our ability to impact policing in this city, ” Commissioner Billy Menz said Wednesday evening. “I want us to be at the table.”

Why the sudden about-face? For one thing, the city’s vast park system relies heavily on officers to provide security for events and other operations that have been largely curtailed during the pandemic.

But now that the summer of 2022 is expected to be as busy as pre-pandemic days, park police anticipate needing staff for far more events than their modest workforce of about 32 officers can handle. In 2019, Minneapolis police covered about 38% of special event security hours in parks, Ohotto said.

Park Superintendent Al Bangoura recommended that the board rescind its 2020 policy.

“Without supplemental assistance, the number of special events would need to be reduced,” Bangoura wrote. He added that as a consequence of the 2020 decision preventing park police from responding to “non-violent” emergencies, they are currently not allowed to help anyone who is injured in a traffic accident on a city street just beyond the boundaries of parkland.

The dirty little secret is that Minneapolis parks never really stopped depending on Minneapolis police officers when push came to shove over the past two years.

The practical result: Minneapolis police never stopped responding to park crimes, and park police continued to assist MPD with crimes of violence. From 1-7 a.m., when park police are off duty, Minneapolis police have always been responsible for park-related calls.

“Crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum in the city. There’s no bright line between the end of the park and the beginning of the city street, and we have to work with the Minneapolis Police Department on all crime and safety issues in the city,” Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said.

The full board still needs to approve the change in police policy on May 4. Meantime, there appear to be other missteps for the evidently more businesslike new park board to undo.

Following Floyd’s murder, the previous Park Board also voted to symbolically distance park police from Minneapolis police by giving the former a green uniform makeover. The new uniforms, which would have cost more than $82,000 for 34 officers, were eventually scrapped after commissioners realized they would make the wearer would look like U.S. Border Patrol.