Calls are renewed for oversight, discipline in the wake of two recent cases.
Long-simmering tensions between Minneapolis police and the black community are boiling anew in the aftermath of two cases involving off-duty officers accused of making racist taunts and assaulting black men.
The revelations renewed calls for tougher oversight and discipline of city police officers from some activists who contend the city has done little to address racism they say has poisoned the ranks of city police officers since the civil rights era.
Just last year, they noted, the City Council, with the support of the mayor’s office, ordered the dismantling of the civilian agency that investigated alleged misconduct.
“It has always had a hostile relationship and history with the African-American community,” Ron Edwards, longtime civil rights activist, said of the department. “When I was in high school in the 1950s, we would shake our heads about it.”
Five officers are under Internal Affairs investigations for two off-duty alcohol-fueled incidents in Apple Valley and Green Bay, Wis. Two SWAT team members were suspended with pay in one case and two officers pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the other.
In a statement Friday, Police Chief Janeé Harteau stopped short of saying any of the five would be fired, assuring citizens that her response will be “decisive” when misconduct is found.
Police supporters counter that it would be a mistake to make sweeping assumptions.
“It’s troubling, because I’ve seen so many good people in these programs, that really give it their all,” said Al Garber, an FBI agent who headed the SWAT unit when it was jointly run with the feds. “They are suffering now because of generalizations.”
Council Member Don Samuels agreed. “There are complaints from time to time, but I don’t think that these two incidents reflect the nature of the vast majority of interaction between the Minneapolis Police Department and the citizens,” said Samuels, who is chairman of the city’s Public Safety Committee that oversees police.
Samuels said police training should address character issues and appropriate conduct in all areas of an officer’s life.
$14 million in settlements
The rocky history of the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA) ended last year, dismantled by the City Council with the strong encouragement of Mayor R.T. Rybak’s top appointees, Velma Korbal, director of the Civil Rights Department, and then Police Chief Tim Dolan.
Several months earlier, the CRA board had declared that it had no confidence in Dolan, complaining that he had rejected most of its recommendations to discipline officers.
Dolan countered that the CRA investigations were substandard. He and Korbal then created a new entity that includes more police input. But some community activists have maintained that police should not be investigating themselves.
“There’s a blue wall of silence,” says Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “There isn’t a culture of accountability within the department.”
From 2006 to 2012, the city paid out nearly $14 million for alleged police misconduct. The Star Tribune reported in June that the 12 costliest settlements were for cases that did not result in any officer discipline.
Harteau has touted the new Police Conduct Oversight Commission that is expected to be functioning by September as part of the solution to the problems that surfaced last week.