Minneapolis police officers will no longer be allowed to shoot at moving vehicles and must use the lowest level of force possible when subduing crime suspects under a new policy aimed at reducing the types of encounters that led to the killing of George Floyd.
The new policy, unveiled at a City Hall news conference Wednesday afternoon, overhauls sections of the MPD manual governing when deadly force is authorized and includes higher thresholds on when any use of force can be used. Among them, officers must consider “all reasonable alternatives” before resorting to deadly force and must use the lowest level of force necessary in other circumstances. Officers using deadly force will have to document how they considered alternatives first. The guidelines also expand the definition of using force to include actions like unholstering a gun or threatening to use force.
The changes go into effect Sept. 8.
Some activists are skeptical that the changes mark any real reform but are hopeful that they are a step in the right direction.
The policy change comes three months after Floyd’s death at a south Minneapolis street corner, which sparked a wave of protests and national reckoning on racial justice. Floyd died May 25 after a since-fired officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and ignored his pleas for help until he fell unconscious and later died.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Mayor Jacob Frey said the changes are being made with the goal of limiting force to “circumstances where it is necessary to keep people safe.” He added that even if more aggressive use of force could be justified under state or federal law, officers must abide by the city’s rules, “not just that which is legally permissible.”
Officers must be able to justify their use of force, and if they can’t, disciplinary actions will be taken, Frey said.
It also defines and differentiates between types of resistance. The policy also bans shooting at moving vehicles in most situations.
Floyd’s death cast a global spotlight on the department’s history of using excessive force and led to calls for its downsizing or dismantling.
Chief Medaria Arradondo said he supported the changes and expressed support for officers “who are rising to that call in continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to keep our community safe.”
But some activists said the new guidelines don’t go far enough and that similar efforts in the past had failed to rein in heavy-handed officers and stop police killings.
Dave Bicking, of the reform group Communities United Against Police Brutality, said that even well-intentioned policies have little impact on the behavior of officers on the streets without “meaningful training and consistent discipline to make sure that these policies are followed.”
“It’s too little too late. Most of these reforms should’ve been made a long time ago. Several of them were ones that we’ve talked about for years,” Bicking said.
“Nevertheless it’s good to see them, and it’s good to see something happen that isn’t absolutely forced by a temporary restraining order or something like that — it’s a step forward, even if it’s a small step.”
Residents and community leaders have said that the department’s reputation for heavy-handedness was the kindling for the rioting and looting that roiled the city after Floyd’s death.
Department statistics show that about 60% of use-of-force incidents since 2008 were against Black people.
It also shows that, after a decade of falling, the share of police incidents involving some form of force has increased in the past three years. Police officials maintain that force is used in only a small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of police calls each year, and that the number of such encounters has been trending downward in recent years, thanks to enhanced training on mental health and de-escalation.
Arradondo called the changes “benchmarks as we look forward to create this new MPD.” The new policy is among the latest reform efforts adopted by the department since Floyd’s death in May, some of which came at the behest of state authorities investigating the MPD for possible human-rights violations.
Earlier this summer, Minneapolis joined dozens of cities like Atlanta and San Diego in requiring officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses excessive force.
The weekend shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., has reignited the debate over police tactics, particularly against Blacks, Latinos and Natives.
“Sanctity of life is the cornerstone of how we are guided as a Police Department, so these new changes and updates to our use of force policy [keep] both our officers and our public safe,” Arradondo said. “It strengthens our values toward de-escalation and encourages a more reportable force.”
Arradondo’s predecessor, Janeé Harteau, adopted “sanctity of life” as a cornerstone of her administration, and the current chief reaffirmed his commitment to that when he announced a series of internal reforms in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“What I have heard from communities over the course of several years is the impact when officers point their weapons at them even if it doesn’t result in an arrest situation, the trauma that can have,” Arradondo said.
“That’s a threatening use of force and we have not captured that before. It’ll be new for our department members, but it speaks to trying to build that public trust.”
Data journalist Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.