Midwest Dispatch: Minneapolis City Council Member Proposes Partially Privatized Public Safety Plan

Community policing might be possible in Minneapolis—if you can pay for it.

In a recent proposal introduced by Minneapolis City Council member Michael Rainville, a cluster of wealthy downtown neighborhoods in the city indicated their desire to raise private funds to pay for an increased police presence in their communities.

The proposal is known as the Mill District Public Safety Project, a reference to Minneapolis’s residential neighborhoods that have sprouted up in Downtown East in recent years along the Mississippi River. That’s where flour mills once stood, giving rise to the city’s industrial framework and late-nineteenth century growth spurt.

These days, steel and glass condo buildings line the streets where factories, flour mills, and warehouses once stood. There’s a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor of one residential building, as well as the usual smattering of pricey, artisanal food and beverage outfits that tend to crop up around high-end condos and lofts.

Rainville was elected to the city council in 2021, and he represents Ward 3, which includes many downtown neighborhoods. The area has seen an explosion of gentrification-driven growth in the past two decades, where new investments—including a glittering, nearly billion-dollar football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings—have displaced lower-income residents.

Kicking poor people out of downtown Minneapolis has been a goal of elected officials since long before Rainville’s time. In the late 1950s, public and civic officials succeeded in demolishing the city’s central Gateway District, which was host to cheap housing for temporary and transient workers, many of whom worked in the state’s logging and milling industries.

Over time, the area became an embarrassment to local officials. Public drunkenness, gambling, and sex work had been allowed to flourish in the Gateway District, thanks to police officers who were paid by business owners to look the other way. Eventually, as white families began moving en masse to the suburbs, city officials got the go-ahead to destroy this community and remake a large swath of Minneapolis.

Though the Gateway’s physical structures are long gone, a battle remains over who belongs downtown, and who deserves police protection.

Rainville is a longtime Ward 3 resident whose aunt, Alice Rainville, also served on the city council. In 2021, he unseated former Ward 3 Representative Steve Fletcher in a contest that was largely connected to the question of how, or if, the Minneapolis Police Department should be reformed in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.


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