A group advocating for police reform in Minneapolis has accused some city leaders and Mayor Jacob Frey of failing to be transparent in ongoing police contract talks after promising greater community involvement in the process.
The group, Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract, also accused Frey of failing to respond to recommendations the group put forward in a meeting at City Hall, arguing “the contract is a needed vehicle to respond to the concerns the public has repeatedly raised about lack of police accountability.” During a meeting, Frey staffers promised to open labor negotiations to the public, according to Stacey Gurian-Sherman, an organizer.
“I worry that we’re worse off than we were before the torture and murder of George Floyd, because of the hunkering down of the mayor,” she said, adding Frey’s office had stopped responding to the group’s voice mails and e-mails. “Elected officials do not appreciate the pent-up anger, the generational anger — they’re just playing with people’s emotions and people’s lives.”
The group’s 14 recommendations include regular mental health screenings of officers, an upgraded steroid testing program, transferring disciplinary power from the chief to the mayor, and ending the practice of indemnifying off-duty officers who are accused of criminal or civil violations.
The city and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, which represents the city’s rank-and-file officers, later agreed to enter into mediation to try to reach an agreement on a new contract, ensuring the negotiations would proceed behind closed doors, said Gurian-Sherman.
Mayoral spokesperson Mychal Vlatkovich disputed that any promises were made at the meeting, saying “[staff] also clearly relayed confidentiality requirements to participants in those conversations.”
“While the mayor remains firmly committed to continue engaging the public to transform public safety and implement policy changes within the department, he is not willing to compromise the integrity of contract negotiations by violating the state’s order to keep negotiations confidential,” he said. “The mayor and his team will continue engaging community and all members of the public in these important and constructive conversations around the future of public safety. Again, he’s unwilling to jeopardize securing the best contract possible for Minneapolis residents.”
After Floyd’s death, the negotiations, which in years past came and went with little fanfare, have become a point of contention as the city debates the future of policing. Many of the city’s elected leaders have described the contract as a barrier to meaningful reforms in a department that has long been dogged by allegations of brutality against the city’s minority residents. Police union leaders have said they’re being scapegoated, and that many of their contractual rights are enshrined in state law.
Another organizer, Pete Gamades, said the community should have a say in the process. He said that after the unrest over Floyd’s death the mayor and other city leaders promised more public input in the reform process, but have not followed through.
“It’s just showing that there’s just a lack of transparency in terms of what is happening in terms of police reform, and it seems to go against the words of the mayor in terms of this being community-led and community supported,” he said.
Gamades also raised concerns about the union’s efforts to keep the negotiations private. A letter from a Federation attorney, obtained by the group through a public information request, showed that even before going into mediation union officials objected to attendance by “outside groups” because it “seems incompatible with the nature of interest based bargaining.”
The group and others like it have long maintained that hurdles to meaningful reform are baked into the union contract and argued that community members should be allowed to sit in on the normally confidential process.
“How do we build a system that is responsive to the community, that is knowing that there is a lot of trauma in the community, and knowing that there are changes that need to happen,” he said, citing the example of Austin, Texas, whose City Council fought for and won significant police contract revisions at the urging of advocacy groups. “The elected officials forget about how important it is to have public support even if they want to push strong reforms forward.”
Officers for the city and park Police Departments have been working without a new contract since the start of the year when its last three-year contract expired.
It’s unclear exactly what the sticking points are in the negotiations, which have gone on since last year, with the exception of a brief interruption when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. If an agreement is reached, the contract would still need approval by the mayor and City Council.
The talks have carried on without Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who made national headlines in July when he abruptly withdrew from the contract talks a few weeks after Floyd’s death, saying he intended to be “on the right side of history.”
At the time, Arradondo said he wasn’t as concerned about salaries and benefits as he was with “significant” aspects of the contract like use of force, the role supervisors play, and the discipline process, including grievances and arbitration. However, the talks continued without him.
The moment marked a new low point in relations between Arradondo and police union president Bob Kroll, who in a later radio interview bashed the chief for his “failed leadership.”