The Hit Parade Revisited

In an age of shrinking budgets, the city of Minneapolis is spending more money than ever to settle lawsuits against the MPD

That's a diametric switch from the old IAD approach, says Harris. In cases where lawsuits were filed, he notes, IAD would refrain from investigating until the litigation was resolved. Now investigations are launched as soon as a complaint comes to light. What's more, Harris claims, there has been a change in the way discipline is meted out: "Instead of two days for a particular violation, now you're going to do close to ten days for that same violation. And that's absolutely a message that's gotten out."

There is more at stake in the Office of Professional Standards than McManus's ideas about reform. In recent years, the federal Department of Justice has been watching the "patterns and practices" of the Minneapolis Police Department. A series of high-profile incidents in 2002, including one in which officers fatally shot a mentally ill, machete-wielding Somali man near Franklin Avenue, drew the attention of the DoJ. Around the same time, some community leaders contacted a mediator from the Justice Department's community relations branch in hopes of starting DoJ-brokered talks directed at changing some of the MPD's alleged habits. The situation came to a flash point in August 2002, when a riot broke out in the Jordan neighborhood after a bullet from a cop's gun grazed the arm of an 11-year-old boy. Federal mediator Patricia Campbell Glenn was in Minneapolis by the next night.

Discussions between the DoJ, MPD, and community members proceeded by fits and starts for a period of months. Hanging over the proceedings was the possibility of the MPD's being forced into a state known as "receivership"--meaning that the DoJ's civil rights division would appoint a monitor to oversee the department and mandate changes to its policies and practices as defined in a document called a consent decree. Similar arrangements were in place at the time in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Miami. In Detroit, for example, two consent decrees required the police to rewrite their use-of-force policies and teach "de-escalation" techniques for defusing dangerous situations.

Right before outgoing Chief Robert Olson left office last December, he signed on to a federal mediation agreement that purported to raise the bar on local policing practices. It contains provisions dealing with use-of-force techniques--such as chokeholds--as well as the use of "less lethal" weapons, and policies for handling mentally ill suspects. The agreement also led to the formation of a Police Community Relations Council, which meets regularly to review MPD actions. Ultimately, though, the agreement is not legally binding: The only recourse community representatives would have should the MPD fail to live up to the deal is to call in the mediator again. (Many participants had hoped that there would be a stipulation allowing the civil rights division of DoJ to come in and investigate any failures.) Even so, the specter of the Justice Department looms large, and may provide McManus with some additional political capital in pushing reforms.

Attorney David Shulman is wary of reform talk, which has issued from the MPD on many previous occasions. "When they start firing cops," he says, "I'll believe it."

And there's part of the trouble. Common sense and management theory both dictate that one of the most effective means of changing an entrenched institutional mindset is to get rid of the most prominent exemplars of the traits you want to eradicate. But here McManus, like MPD chiefs before him, runs smack into the thick blue wall that is the Minneapolis Police Federation. In an age when the political power of unions is mostly a memory, the federation is an auspicious exception. Citywide office seekers routinely wrestle for the endorsement of the union. For their part, MPD union leaders and attorneys regularly show up at press conferences and city committee hearings--especially when the police budget is on the agenda. And when it comes to settling federal cases, a union attorney--sometimes co-representing accused officers along with the city--usually will sit in on final negotiations.

William Finney, the former chief in St. Paul, understands how a union can become so entrenched. "If you have a revolving-door chief of police, what becomes stable is the police union," Finney says, noting that St. Paul had just three chiefs during his 34 years on the force. "It doesn't change much, and so they become stronger. So the police officers watch that and they say, 'Who's the power in the department?'" (The MPD, by contrast, has had 12 chiefs since 1971.)

There's little doubt the union has its guard up. In the latest issue of Roll Call, the Bi-Monthly Newsletter of the Police Officers' Federation of Minneapolis, federation head John Delmonico writes that the union has filed 20 grievances so far this year, on pace to set a record. He notes the newly invigorated internal affairs department and the heightened zeal of the Civilian Review Authority. (Delmonico did not return repeated calls for this story.) The very next page features Sgt. Bob Kroll's primer on giving statements to internal affairs investigators.

McManus seems loath to criticize the federation. "The union's job is to represent their members, and that's what they do," he says. "If you understand the purpose of unions, and the reasons why they exist, you probably wouldn't look at them as an impediment. There is a reason they do what they do...." McManus pauses. "I'll leave it at that."

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