It’s not that we lack confidence in the result. It’s that such a move would undermine public trust.
On Dec. 19, the Star Tribune accurately reported (in “State won’t review Mpls. cops”) that the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis opposes Chief Janeé Harteau’s plan to have the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigate officer-involved shootings, commonly called “critical incidents.” What the coverage lacked was an explanation of why.
To alleviate any concerns to the contrary, the federation’s opposition is not related in any way to a belief that investigations by the BCA or any other agency are more likely to result in an outcome unfavorable to Minneapolis officers. The constitutional and other legal rights of officers investigated after using force remain the same regardless of who does the investigation.
Moreover, the federation has complete confidence in the competence of investigators from other agencies — and that their work would be fair and thorough. The reality is that a competent, fair and thorough investigation will always render the same result regardless of who employs the investigator.
Thus, the federation’s opposition is not based on the mechanics of these investigations, but rather on the policy underlying the chief’s plan.
Under Minnesota law, the core functions of law enforcement — namely crime prevention, investigation, apprehension of offenders, and maintaining peace and public safety — are designed to be carried out by local government. This is precisely why every city that is large enough has its own police department. Minnesota statutes grant authority to state and county law enforcement agencies to take on these functions only where there is no municipality with jurisdiction, when a local department does not have the ability to perform a specialized task, or to “cooperate with and assist local agencies when necessary.”
Aside from the obvious problem that completely taking over the function of a local agency is beyond the scope of “cooperating with or assisting,” the purported “necessity” claimed by Harteau for the BCA to handle the investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s critical incidents is to “increase the public trust.” Implicit in this rationale is the chief’s apparent belief that the public cannot or should not trust the investigators employed by the MPD. Therein lies our fundamental difference with Harteau. The federation believes that the public can and should trust Minneapolis police officers.
Not only is the chief’s plan contrary to the mission of the BCA, it is also contrary to her own duties. If she in fact believes that the public does not trust the investigators who work for her, her job is to restore that trust — not to validate the mistrust by farming out their work. Because having another agency perform the investigations will not change the outcome, the only thing that will change is that Harteau will be able to deflect any criticism or questions in the aftermath of an investigation from the MPD to the other agency — which also is an abdication of her duty to the public and to the officers she is supposed to lead.
Policing the community and policing the police are both difficult jobs in that they are subject to careful scrutiny. Minneapolis police officers don’t have the luxury of asking someone else to do their work when they have to arrest the murderer who doesn’t want to be arrested or the drug dealer who is shooting at them. Chief Harteau shouldn’t get to ask someone else to do the hard part of her job, either.
Fortunately, Gov. Mark Dayton put the brakes on this plan until the “necessity” of the BCA’s role can be more carefully considered.
The moral of this story is that the public should be wary of any policy change made for the purpose of “restoring public trust” in the police. Because the underlying message in these proclamations is that police cannot be trusted unless the change is implemented, such claims actually do more to undermine the public trust than the proposed changes will ever do to “restore” it.
John Delmonico is president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.