Minneapolis residents have lived through this before.

Over the years, city cops have been involved in dozens of racially charged incidents, some involving shootings and assaults. After those events, discussions were held. Reports were written and issued. Commitments to change were issued. And then the next troubling case came along as if none of that work ever occurred.

City residents are understandably angry about ongoing disciplinary problems that are rooted in racism and an ugly cultural problem within the Minneapolis Police Department. Five officers are being investigated following two incidents in which off-duty officers used racial slurs during fights outside bars. And an external evaluation is being done to determine exactly what happened earlier this year when officers shot and killed a young black man after chasing him into an Uptown basement.

The response to this latest rash of problems? Chief Janeé Harteau and other city leaders deplored the racial slurs and said the behavior of the officers involved would not be tolerated. Last week, Harteau held a closed-door session with a group of 23 community leaders. After a “really candid dialogue,’’ according to the chief, the group divided into subcommittees and will reconvene in September to talk action.

It was an appropriate response, but history has shown that those conversations will be meaningless if they fail to produce real strategies and results.

As the subcommittees begin their work, the Star Tribune Editorial Board offers the following suggestions:

• Community engagement: The chief’s actions last week demonstrated her strong commitment to working with the community. In just a few days, she spoke out several times against racist, sexist and antigay speech. She and nearly 200 of her officers participated in National Night Out parties throughout the city to build positive relationships with residents. Those type of interactions should occur regularly through block parties, district council sessions and while on beat patrol — not only when the heat is on the department.

• Officer recruitment and hiring: During the previous chief’s tenure, the department increased the numbers of female officers and officers of color. According to the most recent figures provided by the department, there are 836 sworn officers, including 170, or 20 percent, of color. Of that number, 74 are African-American; the remainder are Asian, Hispanic and Native American.

While that’s progress over the makeup of the department a generation ago, it still isn’t representative in a city that is nearly 40 percent people of color. The department must hire and retain more officers of color and advance more deserving minority candidates into leadership positions.

But it’s not enough to bring them on board without internal culture change. A growing number of bias-based complaints are coming from officers themselves. So the MPD must work on both treating the community better and ensuring that officers treat each other respectfully regardless of race, gender or sexual preference.

• Training: The MPD has had a variety of training programs for officers in the past. In light of recent incidents, the department and community leaders should evaluate the effectiveness of that training. Leaders should look to other departments for best practices and quality diversity training that can help create culture change.

• Accountability: Police departments are paramilitary operations with chain-of-command structures. When officers say or do things that are clearly “conduct unbecoming,’’ the chief should be able to discipline and fire offenders without fear that those decisions will be overruled. MPD staff deserve due process, but the lines should be clearer about the power of the chief, and collective bargaining agreements should be structured accordingly.

The majority of Minneapolis cops are professionals who put their own lives on the line every day to protect residents. Bad cops only make their jobs more difficult, and because of that we would hope peer pressure — including from union leaders — will be a growing deterrent to racism and bias within the department.

The community’s patience is running thin. Confidence in the department is nearing a low point, especially in communities of color, and talk is no longer sufficient. This time, residents need to see tangible cultural change within the MPD.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Google+