Minneapolis activists want mental health screenings, steroid tests for cops

Under the current contract, Minneapolis cops are only subject to mental health screenings if there's "reliable information" they're mentally unfit.

Under the current contract, Minneapolis cops are only subject to mental health screenings if there's "reliable information" they're mentally unfit. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

Activist Kim Milliard told Minneapolis City Council members Wednesday she'd read the 95-page contract with the Minneapolis Police Federation "several times" -- even if they haven't.

Milliard says the two-page "executive summary" members were given before voting on the 2017 was not only inadequate, but contained inaccuracies.

"This is what you guys were using in the past to approve the contract, without having read it, and we're asking that things be better this time," she testified. 

With two months remaining before the current contract expires, she and other activists are pushing to use the new deal to make sweeping changes in how cops are hired, assigned, promoted, and disciplined.

Council members didn't respond to the recommendations Wednesday. Bob Kroll, president of the Mineapolis Police Federation (and occasional talking head on Fox News), tells the Star Tribune the city and union negotiators have only met twice so far, and says he expects a shorter neogtiating process than last time.

That fight was largely over wages, and the deal struck in spring of 2017 gave cops a 15 percent raise through 2019, with pay increases backdated through 2015.

Milliard and a group called Mpls for a Better Police Contract see the contract as a chance to make fundamental changes to how the department operates, and are proposing a set of 14 changes in the next contract. One top priority would prohibit officers working more than 50 hours in one week. Under the current deal, there's no cap on how many hours of overtime cops can work.

Milliard told council members studies have shown cops who work shifts longer than 10 hours are more "stressed out," and show increased likelihood to act on prejudices, and "have more accidents, even things that aren't, like, 'I don't like you, I'm going to beat you up.'"

Another proposal calls for Minneapolis cops to be subject to mental health screenings every three years, and for testing of new hires who'd previously worked at another law enforcement agency.

As it is now, the department can only require an officer's "fitness for duty" examined at the recommendation of "at least two supervisors or co-workers," or if a supervisor has "reliable information" that "the employee may be suffering from a physical or mental condition" making them unfit to serve. 

"Having law enforcement officers patrolling the community with guns, while suffering from their own mental health issues, is a major public safety concern for the community," Mpls for a Better Police Contact writes.

The group's third top priority recommendation would cut the number of jobs cops "bid" for rather than have assigned from 70 percent to 50 percent. Testifying Wednesday, Pete Gamedes said, "As you know, even in downtown Minneapolis, there's open positions that have already been funded by you as council members, and we're just not able to fill them."

Another recommendation exposed a curious, and seemingly unique, requirement that nearly a quarter of the force are supervisors. Under the current contract, at least 23.25 percent of all officers in the department must be sergeants. According to the advocacy group's research, no other city labor contract has any strict requirement on the ratio of managers to staffers, instead leaving the breakdown up to the city and its department.

Cutting the number of sergeants would lead to "significant cost savings" and "make more officers available for patrol and call responses," the group argues. 

The final specific recommendation would add the phrase "including testing for anabolic steroids" to existing language on drug and alcohol testing if there's a "reasonable suspicion" the employee was under the influence on the job. In its rational, Mpls for a Better Police Contract says steroids "cause psychological changes that endanger the community."