Friday, September 22

Report: Minneapolis police engaged in pattern of illegal racial discrimination

The Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination in violation of the state’s civil rights law over the past decade, enabled by a culture of leadership that doesn’t hold problem officers accountable, according to a scathing report published Wednesday morning by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

In a two-year investigation, the state human rights department found Minnesota’s largest municipal police agency uses force, stops, searches, arrests and cites people of color — particularly Black people — in starkly higher rates than white people, according to the 72-page report. Minneapolis police also conduct “covert social media” surveillance on Black individuals and organizations that are unrelated to criminal activity, and used phony accounts to criticize a City Council member and state official online. Officers also regularly use “racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language,” the report found.

City and police department leaders have been aware of these practices, which undermine Minneapolis’ public system, the report found. “Yet, these leaders have not collectively acted with the urgency, coordination, and intentionality necessary to address racial disparities to improve public safety,” according to the report.

Instead, the department has continued to emphasize paramilitary training that results in officers “unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force.” And the system of holding officers accountable for misconduct is “insufficient and ineffective,” according to the report.

The human rights department will work with Minneapolis public officials to develop a consent decree, which is a court-enforceable agreement that identifies specific changes to be made and timelines for those changes to occur, said the agency in a statement. The department will meet with community members, Minneapolis officers, city staff and others stakeholders to gather feedback on what should be included in a consent decree.

“Race-based policing is unlawful and harms everyone, especially people of color and Indigenous community members – sometimes costing community members their lives,” said Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero in a statement Wednesday. “I look forward to the work ahead with the City, MPD, and community members to improve public safety by reversing unlawful policing practices.”

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In a press conference, Lucero called a consent decree of this nature “unprecedented” in Minnesota.

Racial disparities, covert accounts

Lucero opened the investigation on June 1, 2020, days after former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, setting into motion a process that Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said would result in systemic change.

In addition to disparities in traffic stops, police data shows Black individuals are excessively cited for disorderly conduct or obstruction of the legal process “when officers are annoyed with or displeased with a community member’s reaction or response to a police officer’s presence,” the report found.

From 2010 to 2020, Minneapolis police officers cited more than 3,300 Black individuals for disorderly conduct or obstruction – accounting for approximately 66% of all disorderly conduct and obstruction citations in that time period. The report said that Black community members describe these citations as the “Black Tax,” in reference to the fines incurred and the resources used up to fight them.

MPD also used covert social media accounts to surveil Black individuals and organizations but not white ones. As of December 2020, MPD did not use covert accounts to track white supremacist groups. Through the covert accounts, MPD officers sent friend requests, commented on posts and sent private messages.

“When doing so, officers posed as like-minded individuals and claimed, for example, that they met the targeted person at a prior demonstration or protest,” the report found. “In social media posts and messages, MPD officers used language to further racial stereotypes associated with Black people, especially Black women.”

Additionally, officers used these covert accounts to pose as community members in order to attack police critics and elected officials, including a Minneapolis City Council member and a state elected official, who are unnamed in the report.

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The report found that the department maintains a culture of consistently using racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language, including referring to Black individuals as (N-word) and “monkeys,” call Black women “Black bitches” and refer to Somali men as “orangutans,” according to the report, citing body camera footage, discipline records, statements from community members and interviews with officers. Derogatory terms are similarly used for women, including (C-word) and “bitch.” When investigating a sexual assault case, one MPD officer falsely stated that a man could not be guilty of sexually assaulting a woman if they had children together, the report said.

Hennepin County prosecutors told investigators they struggle to rely on MPD officers’ body-worn camera video “because of how disrespectful and offensive MPD officers are to criminal suspects, witnesses and bystanders.”

State investigators also found that racial slurs and sexist remarks are commonly used against fellow officers, who rarely report the misconduct, the report says, because they fear being retaliated against and don’t believe their colleagues will face discipline.

Poor training

The report said that training is insufficient, resulting in problematic policing tactics, while reinforcing a “warrior mindset” despite having banned warrior style training in 2019. Further, officers regularly expressed a lack of confidence in department policy, saying changes were frequent and not well communicated. Other officers said they did not understand the updated Use of Force Policy they were expected to follow.

Supervisors are also not adequately trained, the report said, leaving them without the tools to hold problem officers accountable. An emphasis on aggression during training results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters.

The report found that no meaningful independent review process exists for holding MPD conduct accountable, including through the Office of Police Conduct Review, which is not distinctly different from Internal Affairs: “Almost every investigation of a police misconduct complaint against an MPD officer, no matter how preliminary, is assessed or guided by sworn MPD officers,” the report said.

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Meanwhile, the civilian-led Police Conduct Oversight Commission is treated with mistrust and “lacks the appropriate resources and capacity to do its work.” It is only referred a small number of cases from the OCPR, and only closed cases, leaving the commissioners in the dark on complaints dismissed prior to the investigative process.

The human rights department reviewed approximately 700 hours of body-worn camera footage and nearly 480,000 pages of documents, including training materials, policies and procedures, disciplinary records, internal and external communication and correspondence and MPD’s covert social media accounts, according to the report. Investigators also observed the 2021 MPD Academy trainings for new officer hires and completed ride-alongs with MPD officers in each of the city’s five precincts. The department crafted its findings after consulting with policing experts and interviewing police officers and supervisors up the chain of command, along with elected officials and city staff in Minneapolis.

Since Lucero announced the investigation in 2020, four Minneapolis police officers, including Chauvin, have been convicted of crimes in connection to Floyd’s killing. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter a year ago, and pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations in December. A federal jury found J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao guilty of using the color of the law to violate Floyd’s civil rights, causing his death, earlier this year. All three face another trial scheduled to begin in June for charges of aiding and abetting murder.

In addition to the state’s investigation, the Justice Department is also engaged in a probe of whether Minneapolis police have engaged in a pattern and practice of illegal behavior.

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