Human rights

The Deeper Implications of the Human Rights Report on Minneapolis Police | Opinion

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights report, based on its nearly two-year investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, contained many catchy headlines waiting to be extracted: rampant racial bias, fake media accounts social media used to harass black activists or denigrate elected officials and evidence regularly contradicting officers’ reports.

Although the MDHR has not yet offered specific remedies that could directly address these issues in a consent decree, they have invited the public to make suggestions. To do this better, it may help to consider the deeper implications of three titles we haven’t seen yet.

City and county prosecutors are forced to use hundreds of unreliable witnesses

MDHR finds people of color do not have equitable access to public safety services

MPD: a military model without a functional chain of command

The ultimate goal of the consent decree should be that each of these titles no longer apply.

City and county prosecutors are forced to use hundreds of unreliable witnesses

A key, though often overlooked, function of the police is that of witness. The police do not make the final decision that a robbery or assault or any other crime has taken place. They arrest suspects, not convicts.

But the police often play a decisive role in convicting people they arrest as witnesses in cases before judges and juries.

The police may not be the only key witness, of course, but given both the investigative function of the police and the frequent presence of the police when alleged crimes are uncovered (e.g., CFA), the prosecutor’s list of witnesses far more often than not includes the police. To obtain convictions against criminals, the credibility of the police is generally necessary.

If local juries can’t or shouldn’t believe the cops on the stand, prosecutors will have a harder time securing convictions and public safety will be affected. It gives the lie to “tough on crime” politicians and their police allies who speak out against police reform efforts, potentially including a consent decree.

Reading the MDHR report, it is clear that the number of unreliable witnesses within the MPD is significant. First, there is the record of body camera examination of the consistent use of racist and misogynistic language, an indicator of predisposed bias. Then there is reference to police reports inconsistent with body camera footage, leading prosecutors to drop the cases. Underlying, but beyond the scope of the MDHR’s investigation, is that unreliable testimony led to criminal convictions that should never have happened.

A consent decree should aim to establish a strict zero tolerance for police lying. If an officer is found to have knowingly provided false testimony, they should be fired. Police officers should also be required to report their colleagues if they know they are lying.

Prosecutors also have a role to play. Because MPD police reports too often differ from their own body camera footage, city prosecutors must screen body camera evidence before seeking an indictment.

MDHR finds people of color do not have equitable access to public safety services

A common theme in the report is that MPD officers are often hostile to people of color: in their approach, tone, mannerisms and language. Black communities, which have experienced this hostility for many years, will not naturally view the police as an available public safety service that their tax dollars help pay for. In fact, they see themselves as paying an additional tax, measured by the time and dignity lost through excessive and unnecessary encounters with the police, or the fines and court costs that sometimes result.

It is beyond the scope of the MDHR to draw further conclusions about the impact of biased policing on public safety, but others have theorized about negative impacts on public safety. when a police force cannot be trusted. For example, research suggests that gun violence is exacerbated by a distrust of the police, as it drives some to seek self-defense justice. A broader understanding is that the lack of consistent and trustworthy policing can signal societal disorder more generally and undermine the human instinct for cooperation and instinctive goodwill toward others.

A consent decree should require the city to develop alternative security models in which, within certain parameters, non-police officers: 1) substitute for police services, 2) partner with police for certain types of responses, or 3) accompany the police for surveillance purposes.

Random audits of body cameras should also be routine, so officers know that any part of their shift may be subject to further scrutiny. Police use of racist or otherwise hostile language should always lead to disciplinary action. The city should also be required to establish independent decoy tests for police bias, adapting a model used to test landlords for fair housing violations.

MPD: a military model without a functional chain of command

The MDHR report demonstrates that even after the MPD ended the training of “warriors”, the department retained its paramilitary orientation, which encouraged it to see the population it patrols as others or outsiders .

In separate sections of the report, the MDHR examines the depths of the MPD’s internal accountability issues. There is very little coordination and communication within the different levels of management regarding training, policies and supervision of individual officers who have had problems. A separate report commissioned by the city also highlighted the impact of the lack of coordination within the MPD on the response to protests following the killing of George Floyd. Many officers and supervisors didn’t even know when they were allowed or expected to use crowd control weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets.

What the MDHR report revealed is that the MPD operates as a military operation without military discipline. The combination aggravates each component.

A decree of approval should not only end the military approach to training, but also ensure effective external public control of management. Fundamentally, the historical problems of the MPD are not just about individual agents who are subject to ineffective public scrutiny, but about unsupervised management that has been unable to build a business with consistently effective agents. While it may be difficult to outline all of the steps necessary to establish appropriate organizational leadership in a consent decree, an easy step is a guaranteed outlet for whistleblowers that is truly safe from retaliation.