When it comes to policy issues, there’s not much about the Minneapolis Police Department that Chuck Turchick doesn’t know.
So when it appeared that the department was slow to make federal government-recommended changes to how it handles potentially troublesome officers, Turchick, a longtime observer of the city’s police force, started asking questions. Others are doing the same.
More than four years after a Justice Department review of the department’s internal discipline process determined that Minneapolis police practices fell short, officials have yet to reveal which recommendations for improvement have been implemented.
The closest thing to a public answer came at a meeting this month of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC), a policy-shaping civilian group whose monthly meetings Turchick regularly attends.
Turchick, who prides himself on being a persistent advocate of department reform, again urged the commission to push for answers about the report. Commissioner Laura Westphal said she asked for a status update earlier this year and was assured by Deputy Police Chief Henry Halvorson, who runs the professional standards bureau, that the department was working to implement the remaining recommendations.
“He agrees and admits that they are behind the ball on getting it properly organized and updating us on it,” said Westphal, one of a handful of commission holdovers from the administration of former Chief Janeé Harteau, who requested the yearlong study amid criticism of the department’s tactics.
“That’s the first positive sign that I’ve got since last July,” Turchick responded.
The report in question, released in early 2015 by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), called on the department to rethink its coaching program for officers, expand racial sensitivity training and overhaul its Early Intervention System (EIS) for flagging troubled officers and getting them help before they misbehave.
The 34-page report pointed to five key areas of improvement for the department to consider, ranging from ramping up community knowledge and trust of police oversight to addressing inconsistencies on how officers are coached.
At the time the report was released, Harteau promised a new internal data-based accountability system, replacing an old process that critics long had argued allowed bad cops to slip through the cracks.
Many of the report’s recommendations have already been implemented out of the public’s eye, department spokeswoman Sgt. Darcy Horn said via e-mail.
Harteau, who was ousted as chief in 2017 after then-officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, oversaw the overhaul of the EIS, which now uses metrics such as use of force, involvement in a traffic incident and sick time to evaluate officers.
After the report’s release, Harteau applauded its findings as “progressive steps we can take to enhance our community relationships and increase public trust and accountability.”
Acting on the Justice Department’s advice, the Police Department launched a two-week leadership academy for new sergeants and lieutenants, which covers topics ranging from de-escalation tactics to handling a police-involved shooting.
Additionally, the department has beefed up its community relations and communications departments, Horn said.
Still, other changes have taken longer to take hold, Horn said.
After the report’s publication, department officials pledged to establish a new EIS policy — but as of this month, Horn said, those guidelines were still taking shape. Supervisors also still don’t have direct access to information collected about their officers, but they should have it by the end of the year, she said.
Council Member Cam Gordon, who served on the communications subcommittee, says that even though current Chief Medaria Arradondo has implemented many of his predecessor’s reforms, it wouldn’t surprise him if some were either postponed or quietly abandoned. That usually happens when administrations change, he said.
“Maybe they’ve all helped to move us in the right direction slowly, but it’s hard to track what exactly happened,” he said of past reforms, adding that the OJP report only reinforced that impression. “When the chief changed, I’m not sure what kept and what didn’t.”
Imani Jaafar, who was briefly on the police conduct and oversight subcommittee, said she didn’t know whether the group’s recommendations were ever addressed, and if they were, whether that was adequately communicated to the public.
“I do think it just seemed that it was an initiative that Chief Harteau had wanted to move forward, and I haven’t really heard much about [it] at all in the last few years,” said Jaafar, director of the Office of Police Conduct Review. The city board investigates citizen complaints against Minneapolis police.
Others were less surprised by the outcome.
Longtime police critic Spike Moss said he is frustrated by the lack of federal action to enforce the changes.
“There’s no fairness, because they’re the ones who say, ‘We don’t want that investigated, we don’t want that looked at,’ ” said Moss, who was part of a 2003 federal mediation board that called for a host of reforms. “Not one office of any kind is doing something on behalf of us.”
Turchick said he has not yet heard from police officials about their plans.
In an e-mail last fall to Arradondo — on which he copied other department officials, council members and all eight PCOC commissioners — Turchick wondered “whether or how” the proposed changes have been carried out.
“In the short time I did serve on the Police Conduct and Oversight Sub-Committee, some implementation suggestions I had made were approved unanimously,” wrote Turchick, who participated in work groups involved in the report. “But I never heard what happened to those recommendations.”
Clear-cut answers have been hard to come by, Turchick said, although a department spokesman recently e-mailed him to meet to discuss his concerns about the report’s findings.
“I never get a response,” he said in a recent interview. “That is not a good way to build trust in the Police Department, and even city officials.”