Mayor Frey expresses ‘outrage’ at MPD human rights violations … why is he surprised?

A nearly two-year investigation has found probable cause that the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) have engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory, race-based policing, violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (DHR) said Wednesday.

The report’s major findings said:

  • “MPD officers, supervisors, and field training officers receive deficient training, which emphasizes a paramilitary approach to policing that results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force.”
  • “Accountability systems are insufficient and ineffective at holding officers accountable for misconduct. … Instances of police misconduct are not properly investigated, not timely addressed, and officers are not held consistently accountable.”
  • “Former and current City and MPD leaders have not collectively acted with the urgency, coordination, and intentionality necessary to address racial disparities in policing to improve public safety and increase community trust.”

Addressing those issues alone is insufficient, the report said. “Without fundamental organizational culture changes, reforming MPD’s policies, procedures, and trainings will be meaningless.”

Police protect the Third Precinct on the first night of protests over George Floyd’s murder.

The DHR report was triggered by the police murder of George Floyd, May 25, 2020, but goes much deeper.

A white supremacist culture

According to the report, evidence of race-based policing by the MPD include:

  • “Racial disparities in how MPD officers use force, stop, search, arrest, and cite people of color, particularly Black individuals, compared to white individuals in similar circumstances.”
  • “MPD officers’ use of covert social media to surveil Black individuals and Black organizations, unrelated to criminal activity.”
  • “MPD officers’ consistent use of racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language.”

The report found “former and current Mayors, City officials, Police Chiefs, and high-level MPD officials acknowledge that there is a problem with MPD’s organizational culture that results in racial disparities. For example, one of these leaders acknowledged that MPD has an internal culture that is ‘steeped in racism.'”

The report is full of data. For instance, from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2020, 63 percent of all MPD use of force incidents were against Black individuals, who make up 19 percent of the city’s population.

The MPD’s white supremacy culture comes into sharp focus in its covert surveillance practices.

A review of MPD’s covert social media accounts from January 2010, through December 2020, demonstrates that MPD officers used covert, or fake, social media accounts to surveil and engage Black individuals, Black organizations, and elected officials unrelated to criminal activity, without a public safety objective. In contrast, MPD officers did not similarly track and surveil white people unrelated to criminal activity using MPD covert social media accounts. In fact, as of December 2020, MPD did not operate its own covert social media accounts to track white supremacist or white nationalist groups. …

[MPD officers] also used MPD’s covert accounts to pose as community members in order to post comments and content online attacking police critics and criticizing local officials.

MN Dept. of Human Rights report

The fact that this behavior spanned at least a decade and no one at MPD called it out as racist, at least publicly, shows the depth of the problem.

The problem persists.

“MPD still does not have a policy requiring a substantive audit of officers’ covert social media activity,” the report said. “As a result, MPD officers continue to operate covert accounts without sufficient supervision, oversight, or accountability.”

MN Dept. of Human Rights report.

The report also documented officers’ racist and misogynistic language.

According to body worn camera footage, discipline records, statements from community members, and interviews with MPD officers, some MPD officers and supervisors use racial slurs. They call Black individuals “niggers” and “monkeys” and call Black women “Black bitches.” One MPD supervisor referred to Somali men as “orangutans.” Similarly, community members reported examples of MPD officers calling Latino individuals “beaners.” MPD officers reported that their colleagues called fellow Black MPD officers “nappy head” and “cattle.”

DHR Report

Jim Bear Jacobs, Co-Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and co-founder of Healing Minnesota Stories, said based on the report “the next police chief can’t come from within the department.: City leaders “will have to be very deliberate.”

The long history of MPD problems and failed reforms

City leaders issued a statement soon after the report’s release.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Image: City of Minneapolis

“This report raises incredibly serious concerns from over the past 10 years, and like many in the community – I am outraged,” Mayor Jacob Frey said, as if this was new information.

What’s outrageous is that Frey wasn’t outraged sooner, and hasn’t acted with more urgency.

This problem isn’t new and was knowable.

A statement from Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston nails it. “The findings in the report are disheartening but reflect what community members have been telling City leaders for many years,” she said.

Frey said “we have not been idle” while the Minnesota Department of Human Rights conducted its report. “We’ve moved swiftly to address the culture of the department and move forward on police reforms.”

At the same time, he said the report “reinforces our need to double-down even further to shift the culture in our police department.”

Which is it? Did the city act swiftly to address police culture, or does it need to “double-down” to shift police culture?

Since 2010, of the 14 individuals killed by MPD officers, 13 of them were people of color or Indigenous people.

MN Dept of human rights report

The city’s “swift” action seems to have fallen well short of the mark. The city’s statement listed the following recent MPD changes:

  • Imposing a “duty to intervene.” An officer who observes another employee use prohibited, inappropriate or unreasonable force “must attempt to intervene by verbal and physical means.”
  • Creating a “duty to report,” requiring any officer, regardless of rank, “to immediately report any violation of rules, regulations, or laws.”
  • Eliminating some minor reasons for traffic stops.
  • Banning “warrior-style” training for officers (on- or off-duty).
  • Offering implicit bias training, and more.

The fact that MPD didn’t institute a “duty to report” requirement until recently is stunning, speaking to MPD’s historical culture of silence.

The city’s new measures fail to address the report’s key findings, such as the lack of police accountability systems, and the “paramilitary approach to policing.”

Residents have complained about police abuses for decades and have pressed leaders for changes.

The report criticizes city leadership for failing to act.

The lack of collective and sustained action among City and MPD leaders has, in effect, allowed this organizational culture to fester within MPD and resulted in unlawful policing practices that undermine public safety.

DHR Report

The revised MPD 150 Report chronicled MPD problems and the failures of past police reforms. As a reminder, here are some of them:

  • At the close of the 1960s, MPD “created the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct internal investigations, and the city council created a Civil Rights Commission with the authority to investigate civilian complaints about police officers.”
  • Police worked to undermine the reforms. “In 1971, Mayor Charles Stenvig, who had previously served as head of the police union, revoked the Civil Rights Commission’s authority to investigate complaints against police officers.”
  • “In 1974, the Minnesota Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights found that MPD was enforcing laws unfairly in the Native community.”
  • “In 1975, eleven incidents of police brutality led the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to begin an investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, eventually finding that MPD’s recruitment and hiring practices were deeply racist.”
  • “Upon being appointed police chief in 1980, Tony Bouza characterized the department as ‘damn brutal, a bunch of thumpers.’ Bouza was hired as a police reformer, but even he later recognized that he had little effect on the culture of the department, describing himself as a ‘failed police executive …’”
  • By the end of the 1980s, police departments across the country became increasingly militarized due to the wars on drugs and gang activity.
  • In 1989, there were a number of tragedies, including the deaths of “Black elders Lillian Weiss and Lloyd Smalley during a botched SWAT raid. Following protests, the city created the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) in 1990.” The CRA turned out to be ineffective.
Screen grab of MPD 150 report cover.
  • “Misogyny was also a major problem in the Minneapolis Police Department. In September 1994, Officer Michael Ray Parent was charged with felony kidnapping and third-degree sexual assault for forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him to avoid a traffic ticket.”
  • In 2003, “eleven-year-old Julius Powell was hit by a wayward police bullet on the north side. Community members asked the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene. It sent a mediator to Minneapolis who helped broker a landmark agreement between community members and the police, creating the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC).
  • “The PCRC was gradually undermined by the city and forced to disband” in 2008, against council members’ will.

The list goes on, including the deaths of Jamar Clark and George Floyd. Check out the report.

The latest effort to change Minneapolis policing was the proposed 2021 city charter amendment which would have ended the requirement that the city have a police department and replaced it with a new Department of Public Safety. This new department would offer alternatives to paramilitary policing to making the city safe.

While the charter amendment failed, the vote offers a strong indictment of the system. Nearly 63,000 city residents (or 44 percent) voted for the amendment, expressing deep frustration with the city’s current state of policing.

Research data and examples of racial bias

Additional data in the report including the following:

  • Disorderly conduct charges: From 2010 to 2020, two-thirds of all disorderly conduct or obstruction charges (3,300) issued by MPD officers were to Black individuals, while black people comprise 19 percent of the city’s popu;ation.
  • Use of chemical irritants: MPD officers use chemical irritants in 51.4% of disorderly conduct cases involving Black individuals compared to 39.3% of cases involving white individuals.
  • Traffic stops: Between 2017 and 2020, MPD officers stopped 72,689 individuals across all five of MPD’s precincts; 54% involved Black individuals. (Further, “current and former high-level City officials, MPD supervisors, and patrol officers admitted that MPD stops vehicles with people of color for either no genuine reason or for low-level violations in an effort to find guns or drugs in cars operated by people of color.”)
  • Traffic tickets: From Jan. 1, 2017, to May 24, 2020, 55% – or over 10,000 – of all citations MPD officers issued to individuals during traffic stops were issued to Black individuals.

Traffic citations might seem relatively minor to middle class people, but they can be devastating for those who don’t have money.

[O]ne Black community member reported that she lost her housing because she had to decide between paying her rent or paying her attorney to challenge a wrongful citation that she received from an MPD officer in 2019. The charge was ultimately dismissed, but as of 2021, this community member was still experiencing homelessness and living in her car. She said, ‘I honestly do feel like I was stereotyped, I do. … It is something that I don’t think a white person will ever understand in a lifetime unless [they] reincarnate and come back Black. Then [they] would understand.’

DHR report

The DHR report was deeply researched. It:

  • Analyzed MPD’s data on all recorded use of force incidents across MPD’s five precincts from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2020
  • Reviewed approximately 700 hours of body worn camera footage and nearly 480,000 pages of City and MPD documents, such as training materials, policies and procedures, officers’ disciplinary records, etc.
  • Observed approximately 87 hours of 2021 MPD Academy trainings for new officer hires and completed multiple ride-alongs with MPD officers in each of MPD’s five precincts.
  • Analyzed MPD’s and the City’s data from Jan. 1, 2017, to May 24, 2020, on traffic stops and prosecutions, including searches, arrests, and citations stemming from those stops, and much more.

In addition to the DHR investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting its own ongoing pattern or practice investigation into the City and MPD.

4 thoughts on “Mayor Frey expresses ‘outrage’ at MPD human rights violations … why is he surprised?

  1. So grateful for the long hours of hard work and investigation you put into this blog, Scott.
    You continue to inform and bring light and love to the world.
    Miigwech – Thank you!


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