U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate Minneapolis police practices, culture

The U.S. Justice Department today announced a sweeping probe of the Minneapolis Police Department, investigating its practices, culture, and use of force to see if there is a pattern of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.

Sounds impressive, but we’ve heard this reform story before, nationally and locally. Problems persist.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department launched probes of police departments in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Mo.

Some analysts questioned whether such investigations led to significant change, the Washington Post wrote. The Post’s 2015 review of such interventions “found that they led to modernized policies, equipment and training, but they produced mixed results on the use of force.”

Locally, the MPD150 report summarizes past efforts to reform the Minneapolis Police Department and create accountability. It’s a long list with a lot of city history. I recommend it.

In brief, the report says we’ve tried community policing, hiring reform minded police chiefs, the Civilian Review Authority, the Police Community Relations Council and, currently, the Office of Police Conduct Review.

All these reform efforts and still Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd in a very brutal and public way.

A crowd gathered at George Floyd Square after the Derek Chauvin verdict.

How much can we hope for from another investigation?

Here’s a quick summary of police reform and accountability efforts in Minneapolis:

  • Late 1960s: City officials create the Community Relations Division in response to community calls for police accountability. The Division was “a public relations effort to improve the department’s image in communities of color through outreach,” MPD 150 said.
  • 1970s: MPD tries more community policing, including efforts to get cops in classrooms to talk to students about their work.
  • 1980s: The city hired Police Chief Tony Bouza to clean up the department. At the time, he call Minneapolis police “damn brutal, a bunch of thumpers,” MPD150 wrote. In retrospect, Bouza said he had little effect on the department’s culture, calling himself a “failed police executive.”
  • 1990: The war on drugs of the late 1980s accelerates the militarization of police. More police brutality renewed calls for police accountability. The city created the Civilian Review Authority.
  • 2003: The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) intervenes amid community complaints of police brutality. It results in the creation of the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC).
  • 2008: The city disbands the PCRC against the Council’s will.
  • 2012: The Civilian Review Authority shuts down. Its members complained that the Police Chief routinely ignored their rulings, Time reported. At the same time, the police union successfully lobbied the legislature to gut the Civilian Review Authority’s power, MPD 150 said.
  • 2015: A year-long study “”Diagnostic Analysis of Minneapolis Police Department” conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice is released. Police Chief Janee Harteau touts the reports recommendations, that will “enhance our community relationships and increase public trust and accountability,” according to a Star Tribune story. Community activists criticized the report for not going far enough.

Next came the Office of Police Conduct Review, an agency in the city’s Civil Rights Department. Its members are two residents and two police officers. It’s still active today. It, too, has been accused of ignoring complaints, Time reported. “According to city records, only 13 out of nearly 1,200 complaints processed between October 2012 and September 2015 resulted in disciplinary measures. Most times, the police officer in question was just sent for ‘coaching.'”

In related news, the Minnesota Coalition for police accountability is backing eight bills at the legislature. They are:

  • End the Statute of Limitations for Lawsuits for Wrongful Deaths Caused by Police (HF 717, SF 2021)Link to bill here
  • Strengthen Civilian Oversight (HF 640)link to bill here
  • End Police-Only Responses to Mental Health Crisis Calls (HF 1686, SF 1924)Link to the bill here
  • End Qualified Immunity (HF 1104, SF 580)link to bill here
  • Independent Investigatory and Prosecutory Body for Police Critical Incidents
  • End Prosecution for Reporting Police Misconduct (HF 2201)link to bill here
  • End No Knock Warrants (HF 1762, SF 2139)link to bill here
  • Require Police to Carry Professional Liability Insurance (HF 440, SF 815)link to the bill here
  • Require Access to Body Worn Camera Footage in Police Critical Incidents within 48 Hours (HF 1103, SF 807)link to bill here

Interested organizations can sign on to the Coalition here.

The Coalition includes: Communities United Against Police Brutality, Minnesota Disability Justice Network, Minnesota Justice Coalition, Racial Justice Network, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

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