Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said Wednesday that some police officers have abused their power, and she vowed to make repairing the department’s reputation a cornerstone of her administration.
The mayor’s assessment came the same day the U.S. Justice Department released preliminary results of a yearlong police review that concluded the department must get far more aggressive in rooting out bad police officers.
“Some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it,” the mayor wrote in an “open letter” to Minneapolis residents. Because of this, she wrote, “good cops face even more hurdles to fostering a positive culture and bad cops have even more room to maneuver, and the downward spiral continues.”
The mayor vowed to support Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s work to build community trust, negotiate police contract changes to improve the city’s ability to punish misconduct, and make it easier for residents and police to file complaints about misconduct without reprisal. Hodges said it is crucial to “check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.”
Hours after the letter and preliminary report from the Justice Department, Harteau and Hodges faced tough questions at a community forum of about 100 people as the two leaders set out to ease community tensions over police accountability and restore public trust in law enforcement.
The tone of the meeting was set with the first question, asked by K.G. Wilson, a community activist who runs Hope Ministries. Wilson wanted to know how the chief intended to build “better relationships with the youth that have been misinformed by misinformed individuals,” which he said contributes to the adversarial relationship between police and ethnic minorities.
Harteau responded that “we’re acknowledging that we’re not where we want to be.” Her comment was met with sparse applause.
The forum was Harteau’s first public test since she abruptly pulled out of a potentially divisive and confrontational meeting in September, sparking some of the most intense criticism the chief has faced in her nearly two years in the city’s top law enforcement job. Residents were furious that the chief appeared to be dodging questions after a series of much-criticized incidents involving police and residents. That forum was punctuated by raucous shouts from the audience.
Wednesday’s forum, which lasted about two hours at Macedonia Baptist Church in south Minneapolis, was less confrontational.
Harteau and Hodges were facing public questions after a string of recent shootings left dozens of people wounded and at least three dead. The spike in violent crime comes as Harteau is scrambling to refill depleted police ranks and has used overtime pay to boost enforcement in crime-prone areas.
The forum laid bare deep questions that remain in the community about Harteau’s commitment to community engagement.
Harteau has been working hard to make amends after skipping the Sept. 18 forum on police accountability, citing unspecified threats on social media. The chief later apologized to Hodges for her decision after learning “some people were offended by my comments” in pulling out.
A year ago, the chief asked the federal Justice Department to conduct an independent assessment of the department’s officer oversight and discipline process. The yearlong study, conducted by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, pointed to a need to revamp its “Early Intervention System” and take a more data-driven approach to helping supervisors identify problem cops and provide them with additional training.
Police say they are addressing the issues by reaching out to community leaders.
“I’m not overly surprised,” Harteau said of the report. “One of the concerns I had early on was did we have an effective early intervention system. And I didn’t think we did and clearly we don’t.”
Justice department officials said Minneapolis police made significant strides in its handling of officer complaints — Internal Affairs complaints fell 45 percent between 2008 and 2013, while “officer coaching” increased sixfold — according to a summary of the study’s findings furnished by police officials. The report also found that the Office of Police Review was more aggressive in pursuing complaints lodged against officers than its predecessor, the now-defunct Civilian Review Authority.
The Justice Department review came after Harteau fired two white police officers who scuffled with a group of black men and then used racial slurs while berating local police investigating an incident in Green Bay, Wis.
Yvonne Cheek, a Minneapolis-based consultant who moderated the forum, said Harteau was unfairly lambasted for missing the Sept. 18 forum, adding that the chief made 33 public appearances in September.
Wednesday’s forum was the first of three that Harteau and the mayor have planned this month.