It's been more than a year since Minneapolis police enacted a sweeping new policy overhauling the thresholds for use of force by officers, including when deadly force is authorized — a measure aimed at reducing violent encounters with citizens in the wake of George Floyd's killing.
But what difference that change in policy has made remains murky: The data available on the city's use-of-force dashboard have remained incomplete, making it difficult to access the actual effect of the policy changes.
For weeks, the online dashboard that shows when and where Minneapolis police have used force while on duty has displayed a disclaimer in bold, red text: "Data collection for Use of Force has changed. The Minneapolis Police Department is enhancing this data set to include more information. New data will be available soon."
Users can still access the number of use-of-force incidents dating back to 2008 and corresponding details such as the type of force used and the officer's reason. But if they look closer, they'll notice a drastic difference between 2021's data and the data of years past.
Recorded use-of-force incidents sharply increased since September of last year, after the department introduced policies that reduced allowable use-of-force and required officers to document lower-level actions — making it difficult to compare the data to that of previous years using the information now available.
For example, the data show record-high police use-of-force rates per 10,000 police calls, but those incidents may include expanded reporting of existing force categories, or new actions such as unholstering a gun and handcuffing not counted before this year. Rather than certainly reflecting a new reality in the amount of force officers are using, the high force-use rate seems indicative of the new ways police are collecting data.
Hence the disclaimer on the use-of-force dashboard.
Mayor Jacob Frey said because the city expanded its reporting requirements after Floyd's death and changes in state law, he expects new statistics would show a higher number of incidents involving force.
"We want a more complete picture ... because it allows us to make better decisions," Frey said last month. "Some of those changes, as you know, are more recent, so it will take some more time to generate data to show or to draw conclusions from."
An MPD data analyst, Lindsay Larsen, acknowledged the variances in post-reform data during recent updates to the Public Health & Safety Committee. At an Aug. 26 meeting, Larsen said the department "dramatically changed how it records force." Though the changes for force policy occurred in September, software updates and officer training did not occur until October-December, she said, meaning "officers were sort of left to their own devices and data tracking wasn't necessarily available to them. … They captured multiple types of things, they interpreted this and erred on the side of caution." As a result, she said she has encountered incomplete or uncertain use-of-force reports.
Larsen said she would launch precinct-level audits of use-of-force reports to improve the quality of the data. Those audits began in late September.
The Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
At a Sept. 30 committee meeting, Larsen reiterated the department's goal of launching a new online dashboard but did not specify a target date.
The department launched the dashboard in 2017 under Chief Medaria Arradondo, who has emphasized the importance of public access to data.
Lorie Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, said that for police departments to build trust, it's important for them to inform constituents about use-of-force policies and be transparent about reporting systems.
When there are changes to the policies, however, "it's not surprising that it could take a period of time for the new reporting data to become reliable," she said. "In the future, you might decide that if you're going to look at the data over time, you ignore the initial period when there was some confusion and lack of reliability with data or at least if you analyze those data, you include the caveats."
Abigail Cerra, chair of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, said an update of the dashboard would not only increase transparency, but also be "a real equalizer and enable us to do our work." The commission does not have independent access to data, so it has to submit data practices requests to get information from the city. More comprehensive data on the dashboard could at least change that for use-of-force incidents, she said.
Even though MPD has not yet launched its new online dashboard, the data now available does show that those subjected to force are still overwhelmingly Black men and that the "person in crisis" tag is being used to describe subjects more often.
Bodily force, which includes tactics like body weight pinning and joint locking, is still the most common use of force. No new neck restraint incidents have been recorded.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.