Who Will Police the Police?
When an army of community activists inundates the Minneapolis City Council chambers, it's a safe bet that they aren't there to congratulate officials for a job well done. So it was last Wednesday at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee meeting. After years of lawsuits, negotiation, and federal mediation, relations between the Minneapolis Police Department and the citizenry had collapsed into an impasse. Again.
The spark this time was a single job reassignment. Last month, MPD Lt. Medaria Arradondo, the department's point person on the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC), received a promotion and a new portfolio as head of STOP, a street-policing initiative. As a result, he will no longer be available to sit in during the monthly meetings between 18 police and city personnel and 18 community representatives. By all accounts Arradondo was a skilled negotiator during these sit-downs.
Yet during last Wednesday's City Hall showdown, it became clear that the removal of Arradondo wasn't the only problem with the agreement the Department of Justice forged between the city's police and the citizenry. In fact, detailed complaints about the MPD's recent practices suggest that the accord could be on its way to failing.
The agreement, brokered by DOJ rep Patricia Campbell Glenn, details many things the MPD must do to satisfy the community: training on recognizing mental health problems, outreach to communities of color, diversification of the police force. A pair of articles in last week's Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder charge that the MPD has not fulfilled these obligations.
Booker Hodges, who recently resigned as a community member of the PCRC, wrote one of the Spokesman accusations. The council, Hodges states, "has been in constant turmoil since the beginning of this year." And he argues that the "community side [of the council] should have gone into federal court long ago." Hodges's main complaint is the failure of the MPD to adequately diversify its workforce.
Michael Friedman, who was appointed to chair the Civilian Review Authority two years ago, authored the second Spokesman-Recorder article, and his criticisms are more specific. Under Friedman's leadership, civilian review has regained some credibility, with the CRA taking an active interest in public complaints against the MPD. Friedman's article notes that during his tenure, the CRA has sent numerous letters to the MPD brass "detailing training or policy matters that need to be looked into."
He goes on to summarize those concerns in eight bullet points. One deals with "officers not understanding what behavior constitutes Disorderly Conduct against a police officer as determined by Minnesota courts." Another wonders about "police reports regarding use of force that are inconsistent with documented injury." Still others relate to taser usage, domestic abuse complaints, and the racial tension that might arise through arresting someone for spitting on the sidewalk. "Unfortunately," Friedman writes, "the MPD has chosen not to provide any feedback to CRA on any of the issues raised."
In an interview with City Pages, Friedman recounted the charges he heard raised during the council meeting at City Hall. "What was most striking to me was that some of the things the community members were saying echoed my own experience with the CRA," he says. "There seems to be an aversion within the police department [to] accepting anybody's input on anything, at least as far as management is concerned. We aren't claiming to have expertise, but when we see problems leading to citizen dissatisfaction it is our role to bring that to the police and promote a dialogue.
"Chief McManus designated [Deputy Chief] Don Harris as being the only one to deal with us, and Harris doesn't respond to us," Friedman continues. "I asked him to appear as a guest speaker at our monthly board meeting--sort of a continuing ed sort of thing, where we wanted police clarification on aspects of their policy manual. Don Harris didn't even give us the courtesy of a reply."
(Harris did not return a call from City Pages seeking comment.)
"Don Harris has made some very inflammatory remarks at PCRC meetings, saying CRA is on a witchhunt over how police are managed. It is a smear campaign designed to remove the legitimacy of anyone having any role in advising the police department," Friedman says. "I think it is actually the same arrogance to outside review that gets the department in trouble...in police liability litigation."
When the federal mediation agreement was first signed, many on both sides wondered if it was too tall an order--a very ambitious agenda in an era of shrinking police budgets. Turns out those fears were well founded.
"The talk of the day was that there hasn't been enough funding to follow through with anything outlined in the agreement," contends Mark Anderson, a "mental health" community rep on the PCRC. "It wasn't about what the police hadn't been doing, it was about how they hadn't been doing anything at all."
Deputy Chief Harris, not Chief Bill McManus, gave the update to the council committee on Wednesday, and he repeated the argument that the police budgets enacted by the City Council have made it nearly impossible to follow the letter of the mediation agreement.
Anderson, in fact, doesn't place blame with the police chief. The chief reports directly to the mayor, he points out, and R.T. Rybak, according to Anderson, has "been disengaged from the whole process."
"We haven't seen leadership from the city at all," Anderson continues, adding that the PCRC wrote a letter to Rybak earlier this year detailing concerns that the mediation agreement was going nowhere. "We didn't hear back for two months."
Rybak, for his part, notes that there has been a "communication breakdown attributable to all sides, and I'll take some of the blame for that.
"We are making progress," the mayor continues, claiming that two years into a five-year agreement, the city and police have at least started some action on two-thirds of the many points outlined in the agreement. He points to the coordination with community specialists when screening new officers for "psychological health," for example. Still, he concedes there are "serious problems within PCRC."
In past interviews, Rybak has said that he didn't think too much about the concept of federal mediation. Now he seems to have had a wake-up call of some sort. "I need to take more of an active role," Ryback concedes. "Remember that in the PCRC agreement, the mayor is an observer, not a participant. That's by design, so the work between the community and the police isn't tainted by the political process. That spirit needs to remain, but I am playing a more active role."
Anderson says that the original mediator, Campbell Glenn, came to town to negotiate with both sides in August--three years after she first came to Minneapolis. Grievances were aired, but it wasn't clear what action Glenn might take.
If progress isn't made on following the agreement, Anderson notes, there are "sanctions" that could be placed on the mayor, the chief, or even city department heads. Ultimately, the DOJ could end up overseeing parts of the MPD--a process known as "receivership"--until there is compliance.
"That's not something anybody wants," Anderson says. "We'd rather the city try to fulfill its end of the agreement, so we can start addressing these intractable problems with the MPD. How can you approve an agreement and then not follow it?"
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