An off-duty Minneapolis police officer sat in squad car 261 for hours by a North Side warehouse last weekend as young people streamed in and out for an illegal after-hours bash.
The partygoers climbed several flights of narrow stairs and paid $10 to enter a room where they could dance to pounding electronic music under strobe lights. Well after the city’s 2 a.m. bar closing time, beer and spiced rum were sold at a makeshift bar. One man openly rolled joints of marijuana by the dance floor.
But the officer, David Campbell, was not there to break up the April 27 party — he was being paid to sit outside the building.
The Minneapolis Police Department has launched an internal review of his work that night, an arrangement that raises questions about how closely the department monitors the widespread practice of off-duty work and whether those jobs conflict with city regulators’ enforcement of liquor and entertainment rules.
Last weekend’s bash took place seven weeks after two men were shot and killed at a different after-hours party in north Minneapolis, which prompted City Council President Barb Johnson to convene a meeting of licensing staff and police officers about strategies to deal with such events.
Johnson said she was “shocked” when told what a reporter had observed during the April party. “This is illegal,” she said.
Minneapolis police have not confirmed whether Campbell was working off-duty that night and declined to provide details of their review.
A police spokesman said Campbell was not available to comment this week.
Approached by a Star Tribune reporter at 4:30 that morning, Campbell acknowledged that he was not working his regular shift and said he was just “watching the parking lot.” He said he had nothing to do with the party, although several people connected with the event said that’s why he was hired.
Two veterans of the Minneapolis music scene said that for years, the city’s strict regulations against after-hours activity have prompted people to hire off-duty police to essentially stand guard outside unlicensed parties. These people, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the arrangement ensures the security and safety of attendees: the sight of the police car discourages troublemakers from attending the events, and an officer is on hand in cases anything goes wrong inside.
Johnson noted that groups are required to go through the city’s licensing procedures for a reason. “When someone buys a liquor license in our city, they spend money to get a liquor license, which means they do a hefty background investigation with people so we know we’re dealing with responsible people,” she said.
There is no indication that the after-hours party at 39th Street and Fremont Avenue N. where Erick Felton, 23, and Demetrius Harper, 32, were shot was in any way connected to last weekend’s party in a warehouse overlooking Interstate 94. The more recent event appeared peaceful, and organizers checked IDs.
Just after 3 a.m., Campbell pulled over Sekou Cisse in front of the event for driving a Blue and White Taxi without a city taxi license. He had the Brooklyn Park man’s cab towed, according to a police report.
Claire Fechter, one of the partygoers Cisse picked up in his cab, recalled stepping into the event briefly but deciding to leave after realizing there was a $10 cover charge. The 22-year old University of Minnesota senior said somebody mentioned the police car and was “commenting that they were pretty much asked to be there.”
She said she wasn’t against the idea of having a cop at the scene, but was surprised that the officer would pull over the cab for not having a license given the party going on right there. “I think it was very obvious what was going on from the outside, people going in and out — there were a lot of people,” said Fechter.
The twenty-something crowd included a number of people who came over after a downtown concert by the French electronic music duo Justice.
‘Never any problems’
The city issued an order last week to stop having parties at the Washington Avenue building, which is owned by a company called Classic Space and rented to a dozen tenants.
Ron Lonetti, the property manager, said that he didn’t know about the April 27 party but that he’s “never had any kind of problems up there.”
Minneapolis officers, just like their counterparts in St. Paul, may use a squad car for an off-duty assignment, provided that one is available and that they obtain permission from a supervisor. Approvals for using a squad car off-duty are handled on a case-by-case basis at both departments.
In St. Paul, the city’s department policy says officers need approvals from their immediate supervisor, their unit commander, then a district commander and finally the chief’s office, where a sergeant assigned to the task reviews every off-duty assignment. Unlike Minneapolis, officers in St. Paul are not allowed to work off-duty at an establishment that sells alcohol except in special circumstances.
Minneapolis officers, meanwhile, typically negotiate their own off-duty positions, then fill out a form for approval at their precincts.
Department procedures require them to get sign-offs from their immediate supervisor and precinct inspector or commander.
Police Chief Janeé Harteau said Friday that no policy could cover every situation. Harteau, in Milwaukee on Friday for a police conference, would not speak to reporters directly, but issued a statement through her spokesperson.
“I am consistently evaluating all existing policies for effectiveness,” she said. “ … I expect all officers to exercise proper judgment and follow existing off-duty guidelines. Most importantly, I expect personal accountability on the part of the officer making the request, as accountability is a critical attribute in everything we do.”