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Published June 21, 2024

Changes to MPD spark hope in officials and doubt in activists

While activists praise changes to police procedures, they say police accountability is still severely lacking.
Image by Tony Saunders
The changes come after a settlement between the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), MPD and the city of Minneapolis was reached on March 31.

An agreement to address race-based policing and change the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) was reached after a settlement between the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), MPD and the city of Minneapolis on March 31.

The settlement resulted from MDHR’s investigation into Minneapolis and MPD, which concluded MPD had a history of repeated discriminatory practices.

“Minneapolis community members deserve to be treated with humanity,” MDHR Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. “This court-enforceable agreement provides the framework for lawful, non-discriminatory policing, reduces unnecessary dangers for officers, and results in better public safety.”

While the city and MPD denied any wrongdoing, the investigation ended with definitive changes to police practices. The 144-page settlement outlines changes to police training, searches, stops and conduct.

“Our overriding goal will be building a better, more just approach to policing and community safety in Minneapolis,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement. “Today, we confront our past and move forward with a roadmap for meaningful change in our city.”

Minneapolis Chief of Police Brian O’Hara said the agreement is a step in improving public trust in the MPD.

“Today is an important day on our path to building public trust in our police department and ensuring the safety and wellness of both our residents and police officers,” O’Hara said upon the approval of the agreement.

Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins said the agreement will lead to improved police conduct and accountability.

“This settlement represents a roadmap for greater accountability, transparency, better training and police wellness,” Jenkins said.

A step in the right direction, but issues remain, activists say

While the MPD, City Council members and Frey praised the settlement, not everyone was enthusiastic.

The settlement ignored community input and left community members in the dark until it was voted on by the City Council, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J) and Minneapolis for Community Control of Police (MCCP) said in a joint statement.

“While the agreement lays out some much-needed policy changes, ultimately the structure of the power mechanism is unchanged,” TCC4J and MCCP said in a joint statement. “They are asking for blind trust from a community that has borne the brunt of racist and violent policing for decades.”

While the settlement does create a community-based group, the Community Oversight Commission, to examine police policy, the commission can only make recommendations to the city. Those recommendations can be dismissed if they’re “unduly burdensome.”

TCC4J and MCCP argued for the creation of the Minneapolis Civilian Police Accountability Commission (CPAC), an elected board of civilians to review MPD officers, policies and budget.

“Without empowering community members to lead accountability and reform efforts, we can’t break free from the endless cycle of police abuse and inaction,” TCC4J and MCCP said in a joint statement.

Changes related to the murders of Daunte Wright and George Floyd

Among the changes are those connected with the murders of Daunte Wright and George Floyd.

Former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter pulled Daunte Wright over two years ago in Brooklyn Park for an expired license plate and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. While attempting to detain Wright for a warrant, Potter claimed she tried to reach for her Taser, but instead grabbed her gun.

Potter was sentenced to two years of jail time for first- and second-degree manslaughter. Potter was released on April 24 after serving 16 months in prison.

Under the settlement, police can no longer pull cars over for expired license plates or hanging items from a rear view window.

To reduce the chances of accidentally firing a gun, officers must keep their Taser on the non-dominant side of their holster.

Former Minnepaolis officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the back of George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, even as Floyd could be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe,” on May 25, 2020. Floyd died at the hospital as a result of Chauvin’s actions.

Former officers Tou Chou, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were with Chauvin during Floyd’s murder and did not attempt to intervene. Chauvin and the three officers were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

Less than two weeks later, the Minneapolis City Council voted to ban the use of chokeholds and neck restraints. In the same meeting, the council approved requiring officers to intervene when excessive force is in use. Failure to do so will result in the same disciplinary action as actually using excessive force.

The new settlement reaffirms the MPD must continue these policies.

Other changes to MPD Policies

Following the settlement, MPD will make changes to vehicle stops, searches of people or property and body camera footage.

Officers can no longer pull vehicles over for broken windshield wipers, a cracked windshield, tinted windows and driving with only one working headlight or rear view mirror.

Searches of houses, people or cars cannot be conducted based on the smell of marijuana. However, officers are still allowed to conduct drug tests if they smell marijuana.

The settlement reiterates existing MPD policies against editing or deleting body camera footage as well as turning off body cameras. Body camera footage is only publically available after a criminal investigation concludes and shows the discharge of a weapon or significant use of force.

Use of force and police conduct investigations

Officers will report their use of force based on the new three levels of force. MPD can use that data to determine the effectiveness of training, review officers’ uses of force and ensure accountability.

Level one use of force is any kind of force that is expected to cause harm but does not result in harm or a complaint of harm. Armbars, leg sweeps, pinning of body weight and takedowns that do not lead to complaints of harm are level one uses of force.

The use of police dogs, tasers, pepper spray and rubber bullets are level two uses of force as well as any uses of force that lead to complaints of pain.

Using a firearm, striking a person in the head or neck with a weapon and hitting a person’s head near a hard surface are level three uses of force. Any use of force resulting in the person going to the hospital or dying is also considered a level three use of force.

A reporting supervisor must review all level two and three uses of force to gather facts on the incident and conclude whether there were any MPD policy violations. This data is collected and added to MPD’s internal database.

For an officer to be punished for breaking MPD policies or laws, an investigation into a supervisor’s report or police misconduct complaints from the community will begin.

The investigation’s report will be sent to the review panel, which will decide what action should be taken next.

If the panel believes policies or laws were broken, their recommendations will be sent to the police chief, who will then decide whether they agree with the panel’s recommendations. If the chief disagrees with the panel, no action will be taken against the accused officer.

TCC4J and MCCP said policies like these fail to keep police accountable.

“The Minneapolis Police Department will avoid accountability and reparative action at all costs,” TCC4J and MCCP said. “The City and MPD have resisted these reforms for decades. Why should we trust that it will be different this time?”

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