Minneapolis police change search policy

by Tim Sturrock

Minneapolis police released their policy Thursday on opposing racial profiling in their ranks.

Wednesday night, Minneapolis police officers received a letter from Chief Robert Olson explaining they are now required to ask permission to search people when there is not probable cause. The Minneapolis policing policy is otherwise unchanged.

This change comes two months after the release of the department’s profiling study and one week after St. Paul police released a new racial profiling policy.

The Minneapolis study lacked the data to determine whether or not racial profiling actually happens.

“While I know the majority of our officers conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism and fairness, biased policing has continued to occur,” Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton said.

Sgt. Troy Schmitz, administrative assistant to the chief, said Minneapolis was not reacting to St. Paul’s recent policy amendment. “The community is really asking for this, and we thought the legislation would be done at this point so we went ahead and started down the road.”

In July, Minneapolis will conclude its second collection of racial profiling data, which includes search statistics.

“We’ll look at the information in July when we’re done with that, then we may continue with another one,” Schmitz said. “Nothing says that if state legislation ends up being different than what we have, that we can’t change our policy.”

Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, inspector of Minneapolis’ 2nd Police Precinct, applauds both Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s efforts.

“The policies they’ve come out with are very much in line with the state’s overall goal of eliminating racial profiling,” he said.

Stanek said the racial profiling bill will most likely be on the governor’s desk today.

Although the bill does not require data collection, the state will provide equipment to departments that decide to conduct studies. The legislation will mandate ethics training for police officers.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill was watered down in a Senate and House conference committee and she now opposes it.

“This is a proposal that was definitely drafted for law enforcement; it was not drafted for the community,” she said.

Ranum said she approved of St. Paul police efforts to combat racial profiling but said Minneapolis’ were lacking.

“I am very impressed by the process as well as the product in St. Paul, and I am concerned with what is happening or not happening in Minneapolis,” Ranum said. “There doesn’t seem to be the same interest in getting the community at the table like there has been in St. Paul.”

St. Paul police released a study in May finding blacks were searched at a disproportionate rate.

St. Paul police then met with members of the NAACP and a federal mediator to determine appropriate policy, such as having police officers hand out business cards at every traffic stop.

Prior to Thursday, the Minneapolis department discussed racial profiling concerns with several groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Community groups are scheduled to discuss changes with Sayles Belton in two weeks.