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ACLU: Blacks 9 times more likely to be arrested for minor crimes in Mpls.

People of color are more likely to be arrested for low-level crimes in Minneapolis compared to their white counterparts, according to a detailed study released Thursday of thousands of arrests made by city police.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) published their analysis of more than 96,000 arrests made by Minneapolis police officers for low-level offenses from January 2012 through September 2014.

The Picking up the Pieces: Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study shows that blacks were 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for minor offenses, which are violations that are punished by fines of $3,000 or less and/or a year or less in jail. Native Americans were 8.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested. Among young people ages 17 and under, black youth were 5.8 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white youth; for Native Americans, this figure was 7.7.

"Minneapolis police show the same patterns of racial bias that we're seeing across the country and that demands reform," said Emma Andersson, staff attorney with the ACLU, in a statement. "In Minneapolis, the eyes of the law look at blacks and Native Americans differently than whites. The resulting injustices—more fees and fines, more time in jail, more criminal records—hurt Minneapolitans and undermine public safety."

The study is an expansion on an ACLU report released last fall that drew on arrest data from 2004 to 2012.

During a news conference Thursday, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau addressed the report and said that the department had taken steps to improve police interactions with residents. She said police have participated in fair and impartial police training and that the department continues to review its policies and practices.

“Positive contact” between police and community members such as the time officers spend out of their squads checking with businesses and attending meetings has increased more than 40 percent year to date, according to police statistics.

The goal is to show that police officers are here to help, Harteau said.

The chief cautioned that the ACLU report didn’t take into account repeat offenders who had been arrested on multiple occasions.

Picking up the Pieces presented recommendations for reforms such as establishing an empowered civilian review body that has authority to discipline officers and expanding pre-arrest diversion programs that would give young people and homeless people arrest alternatives.

In a statement Thursday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said, “This data is another reminder of the work that we have in front of us, the work that I am committed to doing.”

"The ACLU commends Minneapolis Police Chief Harteau for recent changes, such as adding implicit bias training. However, these changes are only a start. We urge the chief and other policymakers to engage in the sweeping reform necessary to correct the extreme racial disparities documented in this analysis," said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, in a statement.

In addition to the report, the ACLU also released the above video of some residents discussing their take on police interactions including Faysal Mohamed, a teen who recently took a cell phone video of a Minneapolis officer who apparently threatened to break the legs of Mohamed's friend during an arrest.

Arrests by race

Minneapolis council member tackles dozens of outdated laws

It sounds like a good way to fall asleep, but Council Member Andrew Johnson says reading the city code late at night has become a hobby.

Johnson scans the city's ordinances, looking for laws that seem outdated or irrelevant to modern life -- or potentially problematic for small businesses trying to start or grow in Minneapolis. He's singled out dozens of ordinances in need of fixing or removal, and has been introducing them, one by one, for action by the council. 

In recent weeks, items Johnson has added to the agenda include amendments or repeals of ordinances that ban the wearing of hats in movie theaters, require licenses for juke boxes and govern registration for ice peddlers. He said some of the changes may seem small, but they can be a liability for businesses and for the city, should it try to enforce the rules.

"I look at it as a former programmer and (technology) professional: our city codes are much like computer code," Johnson said. "And the leaner and better optimized the code is and the more efficient it is, the better results you get."

Some of Johnson's proposed changes come out of conversations with business owners. He's working Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Attorney Susan Segal on a broader effort to revamp many of the rules governing business licensing and permitting, which some business owners have said are overly restrictive and burdensome. 

Among them: rules that currently restrict signs for businesses, including murals. The city's regulations make it difficult for many businesses with space for and interest in painting a mural to do so, even prohibiting murals that depict scenes related to a specific business. 

Johnson is also working to change regulations for secondhand shops, which often have to follow the strict rules for pawn shops. He said earlier changes for those types of businesses have helped spur development in South Minneapolis, including a booming district of antique and vintage shops along Minnehaha Avenue.

"They're creating good jobs and also contributing to our sustainability goals by reusing some really great products," he said. 

Johnson said he plans to continue introducing more ordinance changes at future council meetings and said that work is "just the tip of the iceberg" for changing the way the city interacts with businesses.

The city is working on other changes, including more training for city employees who handle permits and inspections and is in the process of implementing a new software system that will help track work and permits done on specific properties. Segal said there's not a specific timeline on that work, but officials are continuing to take feedback on potential improvements. 

"There's so much more to making sure we're as friendly as possible and encouraging businesses to be able to start in our city, and succeed and grow," Johnson said.