The death of Justine Damond (or Ruszczyk) was a tragedy, the reason for which, at present, remains unanswered. Ultimately, the officer’s actions and any resulting consequences will be judged under standards established by the Minnesota Legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court. However, while we await answers in this specific incident, several elected officials and media commentators have used the event as a pretext to claim that there is a “systemic problem” in the Minneapolis Police Department, as the Star Tribune has put it in several stories (for example, “New chief should be permanent, backers say,” July 28).
A “systemic problem” is defined as “a problem affecting an entire population as a group.” If facts exist upon which some conclude that there is a problem affecting all 850 members of the MPD, we ask that it be publicly offered so we all can join in evaluating whether it demonstrates the need for changes in practices or personnel and, if so, what these changes should be.
Since no evidence has been forthcoming showing that there is a “systemic problem,” we offer the following facts as evidence that there is not — and we suggest that those who throw around this highly inflammatory term so loosely are either ignorant of reality or, worse, deliberately misrepresenting reality in order to advance their own political agenda.
Between May 2013 and July 2017, four people have been shot and killed by Minneapolis police officers: Terrance Franklin (May, 2013); Jamar Clark (November 2015); Raul Marquez-Heraldes (April 2016) and Damond (July 2017).
The MPD has 850 sworn personnel, of which roughly 470 are assigned to patrol duty. Each year, Minneapolis patrol officers respond to some 125,000 calls for service. They also engage in about five citizen contacts for every call they answer. During the period from May 2013 through July 2017, MPD officers had more than 2.6 million citizen contacts.
Do four deaths out of 2.6 million contacts over more than four years really demonstrate a “systemic problem”? Consider that in Minneapolis during the same 50-month period there were:
• 165 homicides
• 1,868 rapes
• 7,917 robberies
• 8,171 aggravated assaults
• 97,245 serious (“Part 1”) crimes
• 132,501 arrests made by MPD officers
• 2,990 guns confiscated by MPD officers
• 56 percent fewer citizen complaints against MPD officers, even in the face of increasing violence and scrutiny.
These facts belie the claim of a “systemic problem” and instead show that the men and women of the MPD are well-trained professionals who safely resolve almost all of the situations confronting them. Minneapolis officers wish that “almost all” was 100 percent and that they would not be placed in situations where they have to use deadly force. However, as these data show, the “systemic problem” lies in the level of violence in the city — not within the ranks of those asked to combat it.
No matter how carefully selected, trained, evaluated and supervised, police officers — like all human beings — make mistakes. Clearly, the consequences of mistakes by police officers can be deadly, just as in many other professions. Even if Damond’s death is ultimately found to have resulted from a mistake (the shooting deaths of Franklin, Clark and Marquez-Heraldes were found to be justified), mistakes by police officers must be analyzed and addressed in a reasonable context under applicable legal standards rather than with raw emotion and unfounded perceptions.
It is preposterous to think that a hospital administrator would be fired, and all of the doctors in a hospital condemned, as part of a “systemic problem” if only four surgical procedures out of 2.6 million resulted in a patient’s death (and with just one of those caused by a doctor’s mistake).
The community rightly expects police officers to first assess the facts and evidence confronting them before acting — even though, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, this analysis must be made “in a split second” in circumstances that are “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.”
Is it too much to ask that our elected officials and media (who, unlike cops, are able to deliberate from the safety of their offices) should be held to the same standard before they act to proclaim that there are “systemic problems” in their Police Department?
Bob Kroll is president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.