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Undercover lawyers find Minneapolis hinders complaints about police

Minneapolis police are confused about how complaints against cops are filed. Except for the officers in the 4th Precinct.

Minneapolis police are confused about how complaints against cops are filed. Except for the officers in the 4th Precinct.

It should be easy to file a complaint against a Minneapolis police officer. Catch a squad car driving dangerously fast without its lights and sirens, or watch a cop make a questionably rough arrest, and you can visit any precinct to fill out a complaint form for free.

But in 2015 and 2016, the city’s Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) began to hear troubling stories that complainants were being turned away. In July, PCOC ordered an investigation.

The Office of Police Conduct Review assigned three attorneys to each of Minneapolis’ five police precincts to make hypothetical complaints. They dropped in at different times during the day over several weeks, and were told to be polite, but firm. They were to strictly follow the basic, two-step process listed on the city’s website.

But the testers were turned away 13 of the 15 times they tried to make a complaint.

They were told that no paper forms were available (forms can be printed directly from the MPD website).

They were asked details about the hypothetical incident and told to reroute their complaint to the precinct where it allegedly occurred (legally, folks can walk into any precinct in the city to complain about an MPD officer).

They were also told that without the officer’s name and badge number, there was nothing that could be done (also wrong). One precinct was using outdated forms from 2012.

The 4th Precinct in north Minneapolis, which was besieged following the shooting death of Jamar Clark, turned out to be the best at taking complaints.

There, desk officers deftly helped the testers locate forms in the language they asked for, delivered them to the Office of Police Conduct Review the next day without alteration, and were able to rattle off other ways that people can file complaints online or by phone.

“When testers did receive forms, desk officers were not able to provide any information about what to do with them outside of ‘read the instructions,’ except those in the 4th Precinct,” according to PCOC’s report. “Unlike the 4th Precinct, they would not accept the form, implying that it was not something they could do. One desk officer stated that it would be ‘awkward’ for him to take a complaint.”

PCOC presented these findings at its Tuesday meeting. In response, MPD spokesman Corey Schmidt said that the department is in the process of writing a protocol. He does not yet know when it will be ready.