Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Adding yet more impetus to the urgent call for reform, a state investigation found that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely violated civil rights law over the past decade by engaging in a pattern of racial discrimination.

The findings released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights won't be a surprise to the thousands who have protested against race-based brutality and discrimination by the MPD. In many ways, the report just validates those concerns and complaints. The Human Rights Department found that discrimination is not present in "isolated or sporadic incidents" but that it is "repeated, routine or of a generalized nature."

The report is a deeply researched and valuable analysis of the MPD and why it must change. And it faults city leadership for not doing more to hold officers accountable and change the culture of the department around its treatment of people of color — especially Black citizens.

The damning 72-page report is based on the results of a two-year investigation that began just days after George Floyd was murdered in MPD custody in May 2020. It studied MPD data from 2010-20, as well as a review of 700 hours of body camera footage, 480,000 pages of city and MPD documents, and interviews with city and police staff and leadership. MDHR also interviewed more than 2,000 community members, observed training sessions and completed ride-alongs in all five police precincts.

Based on that work and additional research, the state department found a pattern of racial disparities in how MPD officers "use force, stop, search, arrest and cite people of color, particularly Black individuals, compared to white individuals in similar circumstances."

Investigators also found that officers use social media to conduct surveillance of Black citizens and organizations "unrelated to criminal activity." And it found consistent use of "racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language."

The report blames racist and discriminatory practices on an MPD culture in which officers and supervisors receive "deficient training" that "emphasizes a paramilitary approach to policing that results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force."

The MPD and the city are faulted for not holding officers accountable for misconduct, in part because former and current city and police leaders "have not collectively acted with the urgency, coordination, and intentionality necessary to address racial disparities in policing to improve public safety and increase community trust," the report concludes.

Some of the findings do deserve more analysis. As the Editorial Board has argued, prior to 2020 the state-mandated arbitration process made it too difficult for departments throughout the state to fire or discipline bad cops. In 2020, the Legislature enacted promising reforms in the process for police, yet the human rights report essentially blames the MPD for its arbitration failures prior to the change.

Questions also may be raised about some of the statistical conclusions in the report. Data comparing arrests under "similar circumstances" is critical and damning, but many factors beyond race and bias could complicate drawing broad conclusions about some disparities.

Those issues aside, the Editorial Board has long advocated for policing reforms that will rebuild public trust in the MPD. Now that its investigation has concluded, the Human Rights Department will work with city officials to develop a consent decree — a court-enforceable agreement that identifies specific changes and a timeline for those reforms. The Human Rights Department will also meet with community members, Minneapolis officers, city staff and other stakeholders to help determine the contents of the decree.

However, even before the decree is settled, the report says there are immediate steps the city and the MPD should take. Reasonable recommendations include establishing clear policy and performance expectations, and seeing that officers meet those expectations; improving officer training; and communicating honestly with the public, especially during critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings.

In addition to following those recommendations, city leaders have the opportunity to make significant change by appointing a reform-minded police chief, improving training while rebuilding the decimated force with new hires, and possibly bringing on a new director of community safety to help oversee the department. They should look to fill these positions with leaders who are committed to building an MPD that all citizens can trust.