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Minneapolis reaches police reform settlement with human rights agency  

The four-year, renewable agreement creates what officials call a “roadmap for change” for the city’s embattled police department.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Minneapolis has reached a settlement with Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights requiring the city to take steps toward reducing racially discriminatory policing, including barring certain pretexts from being used to justify searches, creating a searchable database of police discipline and making changes to officer training. 

The settlement, reached after the human rights agency found that it had probable cause to believe Minneapolis police had engaged in a “pattern or practice of race discrimination,” was approved 11-0 by the 13-member City Council Friday morning.

Billed by Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as a “roadmap for change” in the police department, the agreement outlines a number of policy changes and other steps for the city to undertake to fix the myriad, decades-long problems the human rights department found in its investigation. 

Those problems included a massively disproportionate use of force against Minneapolis’ Black residents – 63% of police uses of force over the last decade were against Black people, who make up less than 20% of the city’s population – and failures to adequately discipline officers who violated department policy. They also included a pervasive and broadly tolerated use of racial slurs and other abusive language to refer to civilians, to the point where city and county prosecutors complained they were often unable to use body camera footage in court, and a habit of surveilling and harassing Black residents on social media through fake “covert” accounts with no law enforcement purpose. 

City officials made clear in the agreement and in a press conference that followed its signing that they did not agree with all of the department’s findings, but that they were nevertheless committed to the path laid out in the agreement. 

The 144-page agreement will be enforced by a court order– to be obtained through a somewhat byzantine process in which MDHR sues the city for a second time, then presents the settlement to a judge– and by an independent evaluator agreed upon by the city and MDHR. That evaluator, Lucero said, would also need to be accountable to community members through a number of public engagement sessions. 

Frey emphasized that the agreement, which has a four-year duration but can be renewed until MDHR is satisfied, was a long-haul solution to a long-term problem.

“We’re not asking for patience here. We are asking you to stick with us, through thick and thin” the mayor said. "There will be moments when some will say that this agreement needs to be pushed aside. I’m asking you to hold with this and to hold us to it.” 

Officials from both parties also stressed a familiar buzzword: data. The agreement includes a mandate for the police department to set up a searchable public database of officer complaints and discipline, along with an in-house database containing information on officers’ training history. 

“We’re establishing clear targets for improvement,” City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano said. “While data may not sound like a glamorous word, it is a very critical one.” 

Other impacts of the settlement are more day-to-day. Under it, officers will not be allowed to pull over a driver for mechanical issues alone, in an effort to hamstring a practice of stopping Black drivers, but not white ones, for issues like broken tail lights. Additionally, the smell of marijuana will no longer be considered an adequate reason to search subjects. The MDHR investigation found that Minneapolis officers frequently cite the smell of marijuana to begin searches of Black individuals which turn up no drugs. 

The agreement also places increased scrutiny on the city’s field training officer program. Former officer Derek Chauvin, whose killing of George Floyd in May of 2020 sparked civil unrest in Minneapolis that quickly spread across the world, was a longtime FTO and had served in that capacity for one of the two rookie officers who aided in Floyd’s deadly arrest.

In its investigation, MDHR found that FTOs were barely trained – with the last refresher class for FTOs occurring in 2015– and that officers were frequently made FTOs while awaiting discipline for misconduct. Chauvin himself remained an FTO after a 2017 incident in which he severely beat a 14-year-old boy and held him down in a dangerous hold – an incident for which he was later indicted. 

Under the agreement, FTOs who have not received refresher training in the last four months will be required to undergo it, and the department’s training division will be required to review the program annually to consider necessary changes. 

The agreement was not without concessions for cops. It mandates that the city take a number of measures to improve mental health services to officers. MPD’s newly minted chief, Brian O’Hara, said he was hopeful that these services would help police to improve their practices. 

“This agreement will ensure that MPLS police will have the policies, training, support and resources that they need to provide the highest quality of policing services that Minneapolis deserves,” O’Hara said. He also noted that while MPD underwent a serious staffing shortage in the aftermath of the 2020 unrest, applications were back up and former officers had expressed interest in coming back. 

“The city is safer today than it was at this time last year,” the chief said, pointing to a decline in gun violence after a severe spike in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The only way to reduce crime and sustain those reductions is to make sure we are building trust.” 

In response to questions about the costs of the settlement, Frey and city budget officials stayed vague. They confirmed that $2 million had been set aside in the city’s 2023 budget to cover expenses related to the settlement and that other funds had already been used to cover IT work required for the promised data improvements, but said the costs could be upwards of $10 million over the life of the agreement. 

Lucero jumped in on that topic, pointing to the myriad multimillion-dollar settlements the city had made with victims of police brutality over the years.

“Discriminatory policing is extraordinarily expensive for the city,” she said. 

MPD is also under a pattern-and-practice investigation by the Department of Justice, initiated shortly after Chauvin’s murder conviction in April 2021. Lucero clarified at Friday’s press conference that the city and the human rights department would reopen the agreement to make any changes required to put the city in compliance with any DOJ mandates.

Categories:Civil Rights, Government, Regional

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