Following a well-attended online public hearing, the Duluth City Council unanimously voted Monday night to change its charter, enabling the city to appoint a third deputy police chief overseeing training, policy development and a host of other administrative duties.
But a number of people questioned the wisdom of creating more internal oversight of the department, including Duluth resident Robert Kosuth, who said: "The police do need policing, but not by other police. Thus, I oppose the current proposal."
Kosuth praised Chief Mike Tusken's decision to ban the use of choke holds by officers, calling it "long overdue but not nearly enough." He also criticized the local Citizens Review Board established to improve police accountability as "toothless and not enough."
"It's not enough to merely have 'input.' What's needed is an outside, nonpolice citizen agency that has the power to pierce through the many layers of police department secrecy so as to track abusive and aggressive police and fire them before they can do more harm. The issue is accountability," Kosuth said.
Jamey Sharp, an East Hillside resident and emergency medical technician, said racial disparities in local law enforcement persist, with Indigenous and Black people more often subjected to police use of force at respective rates that are 10-19 times greater than those experienced by white people.
1st District Councilor Gary Anderson said he understands the cry for change, especially since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last year.
"The public is demanding and has been demanding, rightly so, over this past year, demanding change from the inside out and especially from the outside in, with the input of the community into how our public safety dollars are spent. And I believe it's critically important the public does have a clear and strong voice on every public safety decision that we make," Anderson said.
Yet he described granting Tusken's request for a third deputy chief as "the right thing for us to do at this time."
"We will not have more police accountability if we do not have this person. We will not have greater reform if we do not have this person. We will not have a more effective and safer community if we deny the opportunity for the chief to have this new administrator," Anderson said.
2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress noted that the new position would not increase the size of the police department, since the deputy chief post would replace a lieutenant's role.
But Sipress agreed with members of the public who continue to call on the city to do more.
"I think people who are challenging us as a community to think in transformative ways about issues of criminal justice and law enforcement, are issuing exactly the right challenge. And I think we need to have the courage to have conversations about transformative change," he said.
"We need to have an inclusive conversation that particularly includes those who are most affected by these issues. They have to be at the table, being part of crafting those transformative solutions," Sipress said.