The roller coaster that is Minneapolis police reform

Let’s take a look at the ups and downs of proposed Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) reform and where things stand now. Bottom line: The Consent Decree being negotiated by the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights seems the best hope for accountability.

MPD reform proposals are coming fast.

In June alone:

  • The city announced a series of reforms, including reducing officers’ maximum work hours to 74 a week, additional investments in officer wellness, and changes to MPD’s Discipline Matrix to make it more “fair, consistent, and transparent.”
  • The Mayor-appointed Community Safety Working Group released its report, with multiple recommendations on both police reforms and crime prevention.
  • After delays, talks began between city officials and the Minnesota Human Rights Commission to develop a Consent Decree, a court-enforceable agreement that identifies specific police reforms and timelines to implement them. (The Consent Decree results from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ scathing report finding the city and MPD violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by engaging in “a pattern or practice of racial discrimination.”

Also in June, the Minneapolis Police Conduct and Oversight Committee (PCOC) membership had dropped from nine to three members. Meetings are routinely cancelled.

The PCOC was an earlier police reform effort. The city created it in 2008 to assure “police services are delivered in a lawful and nondiscriminatory manner.”

The PCOC replaced an earlier and failed police reform, the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC). The city established it in 2003 “to build trust between the Minneapolis Police Department and marginalized communities,” the MPD150 report said.

It’s difficult to judge the reform efforts now on the table. Past failures indicate the city faces an uphill battle.

The new MPD Discipline Matrix looks good on paper, but there’s reason for concern.

The discipline matrix update “was developed collaboratively with input from MPD and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis,” the city news release said. There was no indication that citizen voices were involved or the PCOC. That seems like a critical missing piece to give it credibility.

The Community Safety Working Group report looks good on paper. But the city and MPD have a history of not following through on agreements, recommendations, and reports.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice helped mediate an agreement between MPD and community members, according to MPD150. The agreement came in response to community protests after a wayward police bullet killed 11-year-old Julius Powell on the north side.

That mediated agreement created the PCRC to improve police-community relations. In addition, “the agreement also required that the police chief institute over a hundred reforms in the department. … At the time of the PCRC’s dissolution, more than forty of the promised reforms remained incomplete.”

It’s just a reminder that these recommendations are only as good as the commitment of people implementing them.

Other reforms are on the table.

For instance, Minneapolis City Councilmember Robin Wonsley (Ward 2) is bringing forward a proposal for “Universal Discipline,” according to her July newsletter. It “would adjust citywide internal HR policies related to misconduct and data practices in a way that would increase transparency and accountability for all city employees.” (The city’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee will hear the proposal on Monday, July 18 at 1:30 p.m. It can be watched online. Stream here.)

To me, the Consent Decree seems the most promising effort. Having the ability to take the city to court to enforce the Consent Decree provides needed accountability outside of the city.

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