​​Court Order Hopes To Change Race-Based Policing By MPD

Joe Ramlet, opinions editor

MPD stationed at University of Minnesota after National Hockey Championship taken on April 8, 2023, by Chad Davis sourced from Wikimedia Commons,_2023_Dinkytown,_after_National_Championship_hockey_loss_(52804766624).jpg

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously on March 31 to ratify a court-enforceable settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights just short of three years after they initiated an investigation in the days following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. In April 2022, MDHR found that the Minneapolis Police Department engages in race-based policing, and this agreement is aimed at bringing transformational change to the organizational culture they say causes that discrimination.

The 144-page Settlement Order and Agreement filed in Hennepin County District Court contains explicit guidelines of what police officers must and must not do regarding numerous topics: discriminatory policing, use of force, stops and searches, body-worn and dashboard cameras, training, officer wellness and mental health crisis response. The agreement outlines independent evaluation of the progress the department is making and includes accountability, oversight measures as well as data analytics. The deadline for completing the agreement is four years, though MDHR recognizes that changes this significant often take longer than that, and the agreement would be extended at that time.

A separate “pattern or practice” investigation at the federal level is still ongoing by the Department of Justice, which will likely result in a separate consent decree that will strengthen the changes initiated at the state level. That investigation started in April 2021 after former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Many community members are skeptical about the difference this will make. Professor Michael Lansing, who is collaborating on a public history of the Minneapolis Police titled “Overpoliced & Underprotected in MSP,” says they are right to feel that way. “For as long as there has been a Minneapolis Police force there have been community members trying to hold it accountable, especially around questions of racialized policing and use of force,” said Lansing.

Officers will have limits and additional responsibilities when interacting with the public, such as being required to provide their written name and badge number to anyone they contact and being prohibited from indiscriminately spraying pepper spray into crowds — a practice that came under fire in the response to the civil unrest of 2020. Changes will also be made to allow trainees to give feedback on training officers and to provide culturally appropriate mental health professionals with specialized training in different areas such as PTSD, domestic violence and anger management to officers.

Many of the changes require MPD to “continue to” do things they are supposed to have been doing all along. Existing policies ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds and require registering undercover social media accounts with the department. However, the agreement provides an avenue for tracking and enforcement of these policies and procedures where it may have not existed in the past. The agreement also outlines the basis for officers to stop vehicles and people, prohibiting reasons based on demographic (such as race) or certain violations such as expired registration or a broken taillight to be allowed. 

Prof. Lansing emphasizes that, deeper than the issues on the surface the agreement addresses, is the fundamental issue of the absence of trust between the average Minneapolis resident and sworn officers. “That absence of trust is not restored or fixed by this court agreement,” he said. “We have to think about this court agreement as a beginning and not an end. It took decades — even centuries — to create the unjust structures that we have in our criminal justice system and it’s going to take a long time to get us out of this.”