The Minnesota Department of Human Rights will launch an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department after filing a civil rights charge related to the death of George Floyd, who died while being pinned to the street by police last week.
The probe, announced Tuesday by Gov. Tim Walz, will look at Minneapolis police policies and procedures over the past 10 years to determine whether the department has engaged in discriminatory practices toward people of color.
“This is not about holding people personally criminally liable,” said Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero, who will lead the investigation. “This is about systems change.”
In a statement released late Tuesday, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo acknowledged there is work to be done.
“With the assistance of the State Human Rights Commission, we can take an honest examination at systemic barriers that have prevented us from reaching our greatest potential for those we serve,” he said.
Lucero said this will differ from past examinations of the police department. First, the state Human Rights Department will work with city leaders to try to make some quick changes, she said. There will also be a longer process to potentially reach a consent decree, which can be enforced by the courts, Lucero said.
“This is not a report. This is something that will result in court action and require change,” she said.
The investigation follows the arrest and charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes before he died. Three other police officers have been fired following the deadly encounter.
“We are going to establish peace on the streets when we address the systemic issues,” Walz said.
The move is the first time the Human Rights Department has launched a systemic investigation into the largest police department in the state.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said an agreement with the state could be a needed catalyst for change that he considers to have been hindered over the years by the Minneapolis Police Federation, the department’s powerful police union.
“For years in Minneapolis, police chiefs and elected officials committed to change have been thwarted by police union protections and laws that severely limit accountability among police departments,” Frey said. “Breaking through those persistent barriers, shifting the culture of policing, and addressing systemic racism will require all of us working hand in hand.”
Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Kroll has been an outspoken critic of the city’s liberal leadership, which he faults for being anti-police and holding back on needed resources and manpower. In a letter to the rank-and-file, he blasted the city’s handling of the riots following Floyd’s death, saying officers had been made “scapegoats” for the continued violence.
Kroll was under fire from two of the state’s largest labor organizations. Education Minnesota and the state AFL-CIO called for his resignation.
Meanwhile the City Council issued a joint statement welcoming the state scrutiny. In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, council members presented a wide range of ideas about how they hope this investigation could help reform the police department.
Some want to defund the department quickly, though others prefer to take a longer approach, soliciting more community input before drastically overhauling the force.
“I know you don’t care what we say. You care about what we do, and this is action,” said Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins.
Jenkins noted that the city as a whole has some of the largest racial disparities in the country.
Police department data also show disparities in how Minneapolis police use force: While 40% of city residents are people of color, they are involved in 74% of all cases of police use of force, according to the most recent department data available. Black people are involved in 63% of the cases.
The human rights probe came as Democratic state lawmakers rolled out policing reforms that they said should be a centerpiece of the special legislative session expected this month, a push that Walz endorsed. The proposals mirror some of the recommendations outlined in a February report produced by a 16-member task force on deadly police encounters, led by state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has taken over the prosecution of Chauvin.
Lucero said her agency will also look into state-level changes. Some of those could involve legislative action, Lucero said, such as eliminating the ban on residency requirements. That ban has allowed Minneapolis to reach a point where just under 7% of officers live in the city, according to its human resources department.
Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest on Memorial Day are under investigation by state prosecutors and by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, which is determining whether Floyd’s constitutional rights were violated. Lucero said her department’s investigation is focused on state law, and she is not sure whether there also will be a federal civil rights investigation.
The state’s effort to enter into a binding agreement on discrimination and use of force is not the first move to curb alleged police abuses in Minneapolis. The Police Department entered into a federal mediation agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2003 aimed at addressing a host of police issues such as use of force, diversity and race relations. It was billed as a way to soothe community tensions inflamed by the fatal police shooting of a machete-wielding Somali man in March 2002, followed by a riot a few months later in north Minneapolis.
Arradondo, who was involved in the pact’s negotiations, said at the time that he was willing to revisit the agreement, but it’s unclear which of the reforms have been enacted.
That agreement outlined some critical areas of improvement, notably use of force and how officers handle suspects who are dangerously mentally ill. But critics say that the city for years fell behind on commitments in other areas: disciplining officers who were repeated targets of citizen complaints; providing culturally sensitive training across the department; hiring and keeping minority and female officers; and creating a forum for ongoing dialogue after the agreement expires.
Over the years, the agreement led to changes in the police department’s policy on use of force and improvements in mental health training, while ending the controversial practice of transporting suspects in squad cars with K-9s, city officials say.
But a civilian oversight body, considered the centerpiece of that mediation agreement, dissolved in 2008 amid questions of its effectiveness.
Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel said changing the department has taken years, and that the city can’t achieve reform on its own.
“Every time we let a black man’s murder at the hands of the state go unpunished, we chip away a piece of the soul of this country,” she said. “George Floyd should not have died. He died calling out for his mother. Let’s do the work so that no other black mom has to go through life without her son.”
Staff writers Libor Jany and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.