Following the 18-day protest outside a Minneapolis police precinct in late 2015, the Editorial Board commended the “measured” approach the city and Police Department used to balance the right to protest with maintaining public safety.
An evaluation of the incident released this week by the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS Office similarly found that “the commitment of the city, the Police Department and individual officers to a peaceful, measured response played a large role in keeping the occupation from escalating into violent riots.”
The demonstration outside the Fourth Precinct occurred in response to the November 2015 death of Jamar Clark, an African-American man who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
The city administration, Police Department and Black Lives Matter and other community members contributed to the peaceful outcome of the prolonged demonstration. As the federal review noted, cops who were often taunted and had things thrown at them deserved praise for their professionalism.
City and police leaders eventually directed officers to clear protesters from the street, and there was at least one skirmish between officers and demonstrators. But there were no injuries or arrests from police-community interactions. The only serious injuries occurred when a group that included a man Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called a “white supremacist” fired at demonstrators, wounding five.
Though the federal review praised the outcome, it also found numerous problems with coordination and communication during the standoff. The report provides 36 findings and 71 recommendations that focus on leadership and incident command, internal and external communication, use of force, equipment and tools for managing demonstrations, officer safety and community engagement.
“Strained relationships, lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, public disagreements and lack of consistent internal communication” hampered the response, it said. And it said the Police Department “experienced multiple breakdowns in internal communications and messaging” during the occupation.
The review also noted that elected officials decided to resolve the impasse peacefully through “negotiated management” — a strategy it said was consistent with best practices. But it failed to include police leadership in the negotiations. That fact and poor internal communications contributed to frustrations for Fourth Precinct officers who felt they had unclear orders and inconsistent direction.
To their credit, both Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau owned up to the criticism. During a news conference, Hodges apologized and Harteau added that “communication, communication, communication’’ was a major takeaway from the report.
It’s important to note that city and police leaders took the proactive step of asking for the federal review to receive a fair, impartial outside assessment of how they handled the protest. That should mean they’ll take the critical findings and recommendations seriously and work on improving working relationships.