MPD Consent Decree is late, Minneapolis revamp of police oversight is weak, a national look at non-fatal police shootings

Minneapolis leaders and Minnesota Department of Human Rights (DHR) apparently have hit a snag negotiating a Consent Decree in response to the DHR’s scathing report, released last April, identifying a pattern and practice of racial discrimination by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).

Meanwhile, city officials have put forward a weak proposal to reform police oversight of MPD. Settlements are still coming in from people injured during the 2020 George Floyd uprising, and injured parties are forcing MPD reforms though lawsuits.

Minneapolis police fire tear gas at those protesting George Floyd’s murder.

DHR’s report chronicled long-standing problems with MPD, problems that previous reforms have failed to fix.

DHR Commissioner Rebecca Lucero initially set a Sept. 1 target to reach a court-enforceable Consent Decree with the city.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other city officials initially refused to meet, saying DHR hadn’t provided evidence to support its claim that MPD officers used covert social media accounts to monitor Black leaders and organizations “without a public safety objective.”

The city eventually relented and got back to the table last summer. Both sides reported progress, and were on track to have the Consent Decree done by fall.

There’s snow on the ground. There’s no Consent Decree, not even a progress report.

New Minneapolis Police Chief Police Chief Brian O’Hara said earlier this month the Consent Decree was now expected next year (month not specified).

The city is working on a separate Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been conducting its own MPD review. Working on two Consent Decrees has complicated matters.

The city’s 2023 budget has earmarked $2 million for Consent Decree implementation, Council Member Aisha Chughtai said.

In the meantime, city officials began pushing to revamp its civilian police review process, an apparent response to DHR criticism that its lack of adequate oversight contributed to “a pattern of discriminatory policing.”

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

Supporters damn the city’s plan with faint praise. Critics call it rushed and toothless.

The change is more organizational than substantive. It consolidates the current Office of Police Conduct Review and the Police Conduct Oversight Commission into a 15-member Community Commission on Police Oversight. Minneapolis’ 13 City Council members would each appoint a commissioner; the mayor would appoint two.

The new Commission would recommend policy changes to city leaders and the Police Chief, but it wouldn’t have a role in police officers’ disciplinary reviews. That practice would remain unchanged. Two civilians and two sworn MPD officers review the cases, discuss them, and submit recommendations to the Police Chief, the city’s website said.

A 2021 actuarial study estimated Minneapolis would pay $111 million in settlements from 2020.

Mother Jones

On Dec. 2, the Star Tribune Editorial Board supported the new plan, saying it “isn’t perfect but would move things in the right direction.”

Plan critics include the three most recent chairs of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission, and Nekima Levy Armstrong, chair of the Mayor’s Working Group for Public Safety.

“An effective oversight system must have political independence, access to data and authoritative ‘teeth,'” they wrote in a Dec. 6 Star Tribune Op/Ed. “The proposed new panel has none of those things, nor does it correct any of the flaws we identified on the commission.”

The City Council was going to vote on the plan today, but pushed the vote to next week.

The city needs to get this right, both to build public trust and to avoid the huge financial hits it’s taken for police misconduct.

A 2021 actuarial study estimated Minneapolis would pay $111 million in lawsuit settlements from 2020. “The bulk of the cost, $84 million, stems from 13 officer-misconduct claims of $2 million or more each — all tied to incidents in the 15 days following Floyd’s death,” Mother Jones reported.

The bills keep coming in. On Nov. 30, the AP reported that Minneapolis had reached a $600,000 settlement with 12 people who claimed the police used unnecessary and excessive force during the George Floyd uprising.

“The settlement includes an injunction that bars the city from arresting, threatening to arrest or using physical force — including chemical sprays, flash bang or concussion grenades and foam tipped bullets — against people who are engaging in lawful protests,” the story said.

At the national level, the Washington Post has done great reporting on police shootings.

On Dec. 6 it ran: As fatal police shootings increase, more go unreported. Flawed FBI data has left thousands of deaths uncounted and complicates efforts to hold troubled police departments accountable.

Fewer fatal police shootings are recorded by the federal government every year, despite renewed scrutiny of police use of force and millions of dollars spent to encourage local law enforcement to report the data.

Even though federal records indicate that fatal shootings by police have been declining nationwide since 2015, The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database shows the opposite is true: Officers have shot and killed more people every year, reaching a record high in 2021 with 1,047 deaths.

Washington Post

The story includes a state-by-state, and police-department-by-police-department search function for 2015-2021. It found:

  • 62 percent of the fatal police shootings in Minnesota are missing from the FBI database
  • Only two of MPD’s nine fatal shootings are recorded with the FBI
  • All nine of the St. Paul Police Department’s fatal shootings are recorded with the FBI
  • The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department had no fatal shootings during this time period

On Oct. 21, the Post ran: The unseen toll of nonfatal police shootings: Untallied nationally, the shootings leave those who survive with injuries, emotional trauma and legal fallout.

There’s no comprehensive data on non-fatal police shootings, the Post found. That makes it difficult to know the extent of the problem, and “to hold departments and officers accountable.”

The Post and the Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program filed public records requests for information on nonfatal police shootings from every department with five or more fatal shootings from 2015 through 2020.

Of the 156 responses received, reporters found in addition to the 2,137 fatal police shootings, another 1,609 people were wounded.

“In other words, for every five people shot and killed by police in these departments, four others were shot and survived.”

According to the Post’s data, the victims of non-fatal police shootings are:

  • 41 percent Black
  • 30 percent white
  • 25 percent Hispanic
  • 5 percent “other”

The article provides numerous stories of people injured in police shootings.

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