Making Omelets

Don't clutter up the page with pesky details

We realize context is pretty darn hard to sneak into something as short as a Star Tribune metro section column these days, but you'd think that a spare inch or two of newsprint might be made available when one is confronted with the kinds of troublesome details that tend to rob a news commentary of its credibility. Case in point, Katherine Kersten's column today on the thoughts of one Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jeff Jindra vis a vis possible causes of the city's rising crime rate. Kersten reruns the week's news--crime is up--and then quotes Jindra, currently assigned to the Metro Gang Strike Force, complaining about two overlooked causes: Hennepin County's drug court, which he feels is too lenient; and cops reduced to bystanders for fear they'll be charged with racial profiling or brutality.

"The incentives to do aggressive police work have been taken away," he says. Today, thanks to the focus on "racial profiling" in law enforcement and to "overreaching" by the Minneapolis' Civilian Police Review Authority, which reviews claims of police misconduct, it sometimes seems that police rather than defendants are on trial, he says.

The result is that police may hesitate to investigate some suspicious behavior for fear of complaints of racial bias or brutality. "As a cop, you don't have to make traffic stops, which helps get guns off the street, or go the extra mile in proactive policing," says Jindra. "In fact, it's easier not to. But if cops don't do these things, neighborhood safety will suffer."

Let's set aside Jindra's dislike of drug court for the moment. And let's skip, too, the obvious argument about "proactive policing." Instead, let's consider the reporting Kersten either didn't do, or didn't feel obliged to mention in these 572 words.

If Jindra's name rings a bell, it's because he has frequently been named in association with some of those irritating misconduct investigations he grouses about. In the fall of 2003, Jindra was one of several officers named by Stephen Porter, a Minneapolis man who claimed that police had sodomized him with a toilet plunger. Following a seemingly thorough federal investigation, Jindra was exonerated in that case. And he was acquitted by a jury in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which he was alleged to have roughed up the grandson of one of Minnesota's most revered civil rights activists in May 2003. A third incident, also from May 2003, is still pending: In another federal suit, Jindra is accused of kicking a suspect, Philander Jenkins, in the head and breaking his jaw. To complicate matters just a little further, Jenkins was charged with filing a false report in another incident in which he claimed jail officials had sexually assaulted him.

(For the record, neither of those agencies returned City Pages' calls today; in the past Sgt. Jindra's MPD personnel file and his record with Civilian Review have been without meaningful blemish.)

Of course, none of this could be explored in any meaningful way in 572 words. But maybe those are fights Kersten just doesn't want to pick.