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“We are weighing all the risks of what a jury might do in a case, where an officer, operating in real time, makes an honest mistake. They didn’t check the right box on a form, or an address gets transposed, and even things like that have led to decisions on a settlement.”
Others are troubled by such disparities between settlements and officer discipline.
Lou Reiter, a retired deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and a consultant to police departments for the past 30 years, said he is unaware of any other analysis of the crossover between payouts and discipline in major city police departments. But he said he suspects other cities would have similarly low percentages.
“The failure to discipline leaves officers with the impression they are immune from being sanctioned because they know they did something wrong,” Reiter said.
He noted that cities often do not learn the full extent of misconduct in a case until the lawyers for an alleged victim have spent a year or more in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, long after a disciplinary decision has been made. He said it is therefore incumbent on police to do a thorough investigation early on.
Minneapolis’ oversight of cops who cross the line has come under fire before.
In 2010, the Civilian Review Authority, which investigated alleged police misconduct, issued a performance review of Dolan stating that “he has not made discipline of officer misconduct a priority.” It also said the board “has no confidence that Chief Dolan and the MPD command staff will issue discipline on sustained allegations of misconduct going forward.”
The authority also wrote: “A lack of discipline in the MPD fosters a culture of impunity which will likely lead to further cash payouts related to police misconduct lawsuits for the foreseeable future.”
At the time, Dolan denied he was lax on discipline; Mayor R.T. Rybak said Dolan had fired more cops than any previous chief. Last year, the authority was dissolved and replaced by a new Office of Police Conduct Review, in which civilian and police investigators work side by side.
Asked about the Star Tribune’s analysis, Donald Bellfield, who chaired the authority from 2008 to 2012, said last week, “It appears to be business as usual for the nondisciplining of officers.”
Bellfield said he will reserve judgment on how Harteau will discipline officers in the future. “We’ll see what the new chief is going to do.”
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