This week, the public learned that three Minneapolis police officers were cited for assault in Apple Valley last year, following a racial incident outside a bar. Last week, two city cops were suspended following a bar fight in Green Bay, Wis.
While arguing with Green Bay police, the pair repeatedly used racial slurs, were disrespectful to the local officers and insulted their own chief with an anti-gay slur — and their rants were all captured on videotape.
Earlier this year, another officer was fired after being sentenced to 43 months in prison for punching and severely injuring a bar patron while off duty
What’s going on with Minneapolis police? The three incidents reflect a bullying, racially biased subculture that has existed within the Minneapolis Police Department for decades. Mayors and police chiefs have changed over the years, yet the problem still exists.
Though the majority of Minneapolis officers are dedicated city employees who put public safety first, a seemingly endless parade of bad cops sustains the public perception that the department employs a significant number of racist, sexist, homophobic thumpers. It’s a subculture that damages public confidence and makes it more difficult for good officers to do their jobs.
It is past time for the city and the department to go after this brand of police misconduct. The chief and the mayor need to outline a strong, specific strategy to the community for addressing the deeply ingrained problem.
How deeply ingrained? One of the Minneapolis cops told Green Bay police that it was his “right” to use a racial slur because he was protected by freedom of speech laws.
In response to the Green Bay incident, a number of city leaders, including Police Chief Janeé Harteau, expressed outrage. But in this case, that’s simply not enough. Nor is it sufficient to promise internal investigations and “more training.”
The department and the city should take a deeper look at hiring practices to avoid bringing officers with these tendencies onto the force. City leaders should also review collective bargaining agreements and grievance rules to determine whether they protect bad cops. And they should clearly communicate to the public what steps they are taking to clear out officers with repeated offenses and to reduce the number of lawsuit settlements and payouts generated by police actions.
Minneapolis is certainly not alone among large U.S. cities. But some have been more successful than others in reducing the number of incidents. Pittsburgh, for example, increased accountability and training — and instituted an early warning system to identify officers who were at higher risk of using excessive force. New York developed a risk management strategy by analyzing previous incidents and settlements.
Many urban departments made changes after federal intervention. Police departments have been subject to federal oversight since 1994, when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. And some are still operating under consent decrees as a result of those investigations.
We trust that these issues are personal for Harteau. Appointed by Mayor R.T. Rybak last year, the chief is the department’s first female and lesbian top cop. She worked her way up through the ranks during a 20-year career in Minneapolis and once filed a gender-based discrimination action against the department she now heads. So she has firsthand experience with the kind of attitudes that lead to improper actions.
When officers show disdain and disrespect for certain groups of people in their off time, it supports citizen concerns about police brutality. It fuels the fears some parents of color have about whether cops are more likely to hurt than help their children.
Allowing bad cops to offend the community again and again without consequences is unacceptable. Minneapolis city leaders must take more aggressive action when this kind of misconduct occurs — both for citizens and for the majority of cops who truly work to “protect and serve.’’