Black and Blue at the MPD

A frank conversation with Charlie Adams of the Minneapolis Black Police Officers Association.

RACIAL TENSIONS CONTINUE to abound at the Minneapolis Police Department. Last week the Crisis Response Team, a special unit of black cops created a few years ago to help manage potentially explosive encounters between police and the black citizenry, tendered its resignation. The official spin was that it stemmed from bureaucratic issues of how the team was trained and deployed, but the blow-up was years coming. Sgt. Gerald Moore's resignation letter says as much, alluding in a parenthetical aside to "the way that black officers' concerns have not been addressed through two (2) police administrations and it appears that with the start of a third (3rd) administration that things have remained unchanged."

Matters were helped to a head in recent weeks by a pair of events: the reinstatement of the fired Sgt. Alisa Clemons by an arbitrator who cited a lack of solid evidence in the case, after the chief had assured the Black Police Officers Association that the evidence was in fact "overwhelming"; and the addition last week of two more gross misdemeanor charges against Sgt. Don Banham, who is going on trial this week for allegedly pushing a TV news photographer to the ground at the Metrodome last winter. On Monday afternoon I spoke with Officer Charlie Adams of the BPOA about the crisis team's resignation and the climate that produced it.

How would you describe the working relations between the MPD and its black officers at this point?

I think we should make it clear--and I wish the news media would have made it clear--that there's not a rift between black and white officers on the department. The problem lies with the police administration. We have complained for years, since 1988 at least, about the disparity in discipline. When black officers get in jams, the discipline they receive is disproportionate. We've raised that concern over the years, and with Chief Laux, some of it seemed to stop. After him, it's been business as usual. We had one black sergeant fired and one demoted. One of them, Alisa Clemons, was reinstated. Sergeant Don Banham is going on trial tomorrow for one gross misdemeanor charge, and last week they added two more.

What that says is that they're going way overboard to try to get this officer. He was number two on the lieutenants' [promotion] list, and now he's been demoted to patrol officer and taken off the list. It's strange that the so-called victim has not initiated a complaint against him. Internal Affairs did the whole complaint process. I think this is one time Internal Affairs has actually worked for the community, has actually taken an officer and investigated and found him guilty, and is now trying to discipline him. Our other counterparts, they don't receive as harsh a discipline for things they have done.

Our white officers see the disparity in discipline, too. With this Banham thing, they're always commenting that this is crazy. In matters of discipline, we are just held to a higher standard, I guess.

What has Chief Olson said to you about all this?

We haven't discussed it with Olson. We were told when he came in that he was aware of the black officers' issues. He told Don Banham he wanted to meet with him. He still hasn't met with Don. The only thing he's had to do with Don is when he demoted him. Now, somebody who's supposed to be up on these issues in our department, you'd think the first thing he'd do would be to pull in his black officers association and say, "What are the issues here? What needs to be happening?"

He just hasn't dealt with the issues at all. Actually, with the termination and demotion, he's put us in reverse. People we fought to get up in the rank structure are back down to patrol, or terminated. We're 180 degrees in reverse. And a lot of black officers are saying it's open season on us. I don't know how you can repair that, either.

[Olson]'s known for discipline. You can't complain about his record in disciplining other cops. But the people bringing those cases to him, we don't trust them. What he should do is evaluate the people bringing him those cases. Actually, he doesn't know any history about either one of those officers. If you called and asked him, I'll bet he couldn't tell you what Don has done in the department. I'll bet he doesn't even know he's got a Crisis Response Team. And maybe that's not his fault, either.

Say more about the role the Clemons and Banham cases played in the timing of the CRT's resignation.

The thing is, we have been discussing for the past couple of months the fact that they haven't used us, and that we were supposed to receive some ongoing training. When we were used, we were effective. But there was only one deputy chief, Hestness, who ever used us. And sometimes we were met with hostility from the other people when we got there. I shouldn't say hostility--they basically ignored us.

The best example of what we did was probably a double homicide where a husband killed his wife. Myself and a couple of other team members were there. The family was very upset at the tragic situation. The SWAT team wanted to move in quickly to stabilize the situation, because they weren't sure whether the husband was still alive. We spoke to the commanders and the deputy chief, and they did move in. Myself and Officer Moore and one of the inspectors from the 3rd Precinct ended up in a dispute with some family members who wanted to go in [the house] at the same time, and we ended up putting them in cuffs. To make a long story short, we got the situation under control. It was a tough situation knowing these guys' mother was in there dead. It caused a lot of hard feelings between the family and myself, but the point is, we were there and the situation was controlled. No one else got hurt.

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