People arrested on a charge of interfering with law enforcement or emergency scenes in Minneapolis may soon have a new way to get the charge wiped from their records: sitting down for a conversation with a police officer.
Starting in February, a new diversion program will be offered to some people charged with violating the state law prohibiting interference with police, firefighters, emergency medical responders and tax collectors. Anyone involved in a more serious crime — or those who use or threaten force while obstructing the legal process — wouldn’t qualify for the program.
But for those involved in misdemeanor-level cases with no other charges, officials say it could be a way to erase a mistake and build up police-community relations in the process.
“Any time we can improve communication, understanding and trust between members of the community and our Police Department, that’s an opportunity that we do not want to miss,” said City Attorney Susan Segal.
The program will be slightly different from other diversion programs the city runs for people charged with driving offenses or shoplifting, where offenders attend more formal classes.
Without the diversion program, people who are charged with obstruction for the first time — and have a clean record — could end up having to pay about $200 or spend two days in jail. But if they qualify for the new program, they instead have the option of sitting down with a police officer to talk about the incident. If they successfully complete that step, the incident is wiped from their record.
Segal said about 100 to 130 cases her office gets every year would meet the parameters of the new diversion option.
In its pilot phase, all participants will meet with Deputy Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
He said obstruction cases often involve people who weren’t the reason for a call to police, such as a concerned family member or a friend. At the scene, emotions are often running high and people don’t necessarily have the back story on the situation before they try to intervene.
A later conversation, Arradondo hopes, could provide a chance for both the charged person and an officer to reflect on how the situation could have been avoided.
“Often times, they can be left with the sense that they did not have an opportunity to perhaps explain their decisionmaking, which led to the obstruction [charge],” Arradondo said. He added that he’ll look for examples from which police can learn and improve in similar situations.
Arradondo said his conversations will provide an opportunity to explain police policies and procedures. But he said his primary role will be as a listener.
“It’s also for myself to have intentional reflection and examination, and to see if there are things that we as an organization can learn from.”
Segal said the new program is part of a broader effort by city officials to examine the impact of interactions with the legal system on people’s lives. Over the last year, the city has repealed two low-level ordinances — lurking and spitting — that critics said were used to target people of color. The City Council will soon consider scrapping another law that prohibits three or more people from congregating on streets and sidewalks.