Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he is open to revisiting a 2003 agreement between the Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department — dealing with police issues such as use of force, diversity and race relations — amid criticism that few of the promises of reform have been kept.
Chief among the criticisms was that the department still isn’t doing enough to attract women and minority candidates to keep pace with the area’s rapidly growing diversity.
That was one of the 120 action items contained in the landmark federal mediation agreement brokered by the Justice Department 14 years ago. It was billed at the time as a way to soothe community tensions inflamed by the fatal police shooting of a machete-wielding Somali man in March 2002, followed by a riot a few months later in north Minneapolis.
But many of the promises have gone unfulfilled, critics say.
Arradondo, who was involved in the pact’s negotiations, has said he’s willing to sit down with former members of the now-defunct Police Community Relations Council (PCRC) and talk about possibly reviving at least parts of the agreement, which expired in 2008.
“I’m committed to getting together with that group to sit down to, one, to really thank them for their commitment and service to that work.” Arradondo said at a public appearance last month. “And, two, to kind of get some closure on that for ourselves, and for members of that group and so I think we owe that to them.”
The agreement outlined some critical areas of improvement, notably use of force and how officers handle suspects who are dangerously mentally ill. But critics say that the city for years fell behind on commitments in other areas: disciplining officers who were repeated targets of citizen complaint; providing culturally sensitive training across the department; hiring and keeping minority and female officers and creating a forum for ongoing dialogue after the agreement expires.
If the department has instituted some of these changes, those critics say, they’re not aware of them.
“We had been very much concerned about those provisions that dealt with recruitment, especially of those of color,” said Ron Edwards, a longtime activist who was part of the PCRC.
He later served on a committee charged with overseeing compliance with the agreement that found the department’s minority recruitment efforts
“There were certain things that were not being done, and our recruitment efforts and the numbers are being an absolute disaster,” he said.
Rev. Jerry McAfee said the department’s fine-tuning has taken on a new urgency in the wake of several recent high-profile police shootings that have again widened the gulf between minority communities and law enforcement.
“That’s what got so many of us irritated: that the problems that we are dealing with, they’re not new, they’re old,” said McAfee, a former PCRC member.
Pastor Brian Herron said that city and police leaders needed to at least acknowledge they had fallen short on some of the pact’s pledges.
“Why was the city of Minneapolis able to walk away from it without consequence?” Herron, a former City Council member, asked at a recent meeting of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission. “I believe this would be an opportune time to revisit this agreement.”
Herron called on commissioners to freshen the agreement, reminding them that transparency helps create trust.
The oversight body promised to look into the issue.
But city officials say that many of the agreement’s benchmarks have already been reached.
“In the years after the signing of the agreement, some items were accomplished, some are still in process, and others simply haven’t happened,” Hodges wrote.
Over the years, the agreement led to changes in the Police Department’s policy on use of force and improvements in mental health training, while ending the controversial practice of transporting suspects in squad cars with K-9s, city officials say. It’s unclear whether the department has adopted other changes since the mayor’s blog post.
A Hodges spokesman on Wednesday said that the city had begun putting some of the recommendations into place through its work with the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a Justice Department-backed program aimed at improving trust between police departments and the public through training, policy and research.
For example, officials say, there has been a philosophical shift in dealing with those who are diagnosed with mental illness. Most of the department’s officers have completed the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) course teaching them ways to avoid using force to defuse potentially violent encounters. Police say the training, which emphasizes de-escalation tactics in dealing with people who are homeless, suicidal or in the throes of a crisis, is already making a difference. And last year, the department launched a co-responder pilot program that pairs officers with mental health specialists on emergency calls involving such problems.
The PCRC, considered the centerpiece of that mediation agreement, dissolved in 2008 amid questions of its effectiveness, after members made a last-ditch plea to extend the agreement by one year.
The council proved valuable at times, providing input on policy changes and crime-fighting strategies, while occasionally helping police reduce racial tensions, but was also beset by infighting and clashes with then-chief Tim Dolan, whom members accused of routinely ignoring their recommendations.
Longtime department observer Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality is skeptical that the 2003 agreement would have much impact today, because modern policing has evolved in many ways.
Gross, who was involved in the mediation’s early stages, said that she left when it became apparent that city officials were trying to seize control of the process.
“One of the main things that we need to do is hold police accountable,” she said.