DOJ Releases Report On Minneapolis PD, Says It’s No Surprise This Problematic Cop Shop Produced A Murderer
from the broken-on-every-conceivable-level dept
Any investigative report of any police department in the United States composed by the DOJ’s Civil Rights division can be described as “scathing.” Bad cops doing bad things trigger these investigations, which invariably find evidence of biased policing, excessive force deployment, and a general disregard — if not actual disdain — for the people these departments are supposed to be serving.
This investigation of the Minneapolis PD was triggered by the rarest of occurrences: the murder conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin for spending nearly 10 minutes with his knee pressed to unarmed black man George Floyd’s neck — an act that would have been considered, at minimum, metaphorically reprehensible even if it hadn’t continued for three minutes after another officer informed Chauvin he could not detect a pulse.
Minneapolis burned, much like Los Angeles did thirty years ago following the brutal beating of a black man by white cops. Los Angeles is still overseen by terrible cops, showing it takes more than a few weeks of civil eruption to change the status quo. And, if history is any indication, it takes far more than a strongly worded report from the DOJ to change cop culture.
The system that emboldened Officer Chauvin to the point he was willing to take a life while being recorded by citizens still thrives. The DOJ report [PDF] makes it clear Derek Chauvin is no anomaly. He’s only the most visible symptom of a terminally ill system.
For years, MPD used dangerous techniques and weapons against people who committed at most a petty offense and sometimes no offense at all. MPD used force to punish people who made officers angry or criticized the police. MPD patrolled neighborhoods differently based on their racial composition and discriminated based on race when searching, handcuffing, or using force against people during stops. The City sent MPD officers to behavioral health-related 911 calls, even when a law enforcement response was not appropriate or necessary, sometimes with tragic results.
Overseeing the largest city in Minnesota (and one of its most diverse), the MPD has repeatedly failed to serve and/or protect. Instead, the past decade has been marred by acts of violence by officers that have only destroyed what little trust remains between the MPD and the people it’s supposed to be serving.
On May 25, 2020, MPD officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in broad daylight and on camera. Three other MPD officers failed to save Mr. Floyd. Widespread protest followed in Minneapolis, across the country, and throughout the world.
George Floyd was one of several people whose death at the hands of MPD officers garnered heightened public attention in recent years. For example, in 2015, MPD officers shot and killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old Black man, triggering 18 days of protests, including an occupation of MPD’s Fourth Precinct station. In 2017, an MPD officer shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk, a 40-year-old white woman, while responding to Ruszczyk’s 911 call. In 2018, MPD officers fatally shot Thurman Blevins, a 31-year-old Black man, following a foot chase. In 2019, MPD officers shot and killed Chiasher Vue, a 52-year-old Asian man, during a standoff at his home. In 2022, an MPD officer shot and killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, during a no-knock raid on an apartment.
The DOJ report runs 92 pages. And it depicts yet another law enforcement agency that considers itself to be above the law. Unjustified force deployment is MPD standard operating procedure. And when officers aren’t shooting people for startling them (i.e, the killing of Justine Ruszczyk), they’re endangering citizens and other cops just because they’ve been startled by man’s best friend while intruding on people’s personal property.
In another case, an officer created unnecessary danger when he shot two dogs in the back yard of a home in a residential neighborhood. At least two people were inside the home at the time, and the home was flanked on both sides by neighboring homes and other structures. The dogs did not present an imminent threat.
MPD officers view excessive force as a means to an end, no matter what that end might actually be. Rather than being far down the list of acceptable responses to encounters with uncooperative individuals, violence appeared the first, if not only, option considered.
De-escalation, if it occurred at all, was poor; officers shouted commands, gave multiple conflicting orders, demanded immediate compliance, or threatened force. Officers made tactical decisions that endangered community members and officers alike. Officers often used neck restraints on people who were accused of low-level offenses, were passively resisting arrest, or had merely angered the officer. And, most troublingly, officers used neck restraints on people who were not a threat to the officer or anyone else.
“Less-lethal” does not mean any less excessively violent.
From January 1, 2016, to August 16, 2022, MPD officers used their tasers 564 times and pointed or unholstered them 1,039 times. We reviewed a sample of these incidents. Many of those encounters involved people known to have behavioral health issues. In a significant number of encounters, the associated offense was non-violent or did not involve a weapons-related offense. Sometimes, the only charge was obstruction of process.
MPD officers couldn’t even restrain themselves when patrolling with DOJ ride-alongs. One incident detailed in the report says an officer tased a man for filming an accident scene, despite the fact he was complying with their orders to move away from scene.
The DOJ notes MPD officers are complaining about low morale and are concerned the department is unable to retain long-time officers. If this is how the MPD operates on a day-to-day basis, then it’s better off without officers like the one described below, who are far more likely to abandon ship rather than suffer through any minimal increase in accountability.
In another incident, an officer expressed no remorse after using excessive force against a restrained person. A white man experiencing a behavioral health crisis was handcuffed to a stretcher. The man spat on an officer, who slapped and punched him in the face. After the man had been transported to a hospital, the officer said on body-worn camera: “I’m really proud of myself; I only hit him twice.” The supervisor did not refer the officer for a misconduct investigation.
And so it goes for the rest of the report:
MPD Fails to Render Medical Aid to People in Custody
MPD Encounters with Youth Result in Unnecessary, Unreasonable, and Harmful Uses of Force
MPD Unlawfully Discriminates Against Black an Native American People When Enforcing the Law
MPD Unlawfully Retaliates Against People During Stops and Calls for Service
MPD Violates People’s First Amendment Rights
MPD Fails to Conduct Thorough, Timely, and Fair Misconduct Investigations
This is the policing that’s costing Minneapolis taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Violence inflicted for any or no reason. Bigotry pretending to be good police work.
MPD leadership has persistently encouraged using traffic enforcement and stops of “suspicious” people and vehicles as a way to reduce violent crime and get guns off the street. One MPD presentation we reviewed described traffic law enforcement stops as the “top tactic used by MPD for illegal gun recovery.” But only a small percentage of MPD’s traffic stops resulted in recovering guns. For example, in 2018, MPD conducted roughly 32,000 vehicle stops, but recovered only 97 guns—meaning just 0.3% of traffic stops resulted in MPD recovering a gun.
Moreover, from November 1, 2016, to August 9, 2022, MPD data showed no record of a citation or arrest of any kind for 71.7% of traffic stops. The burden of these stops fell most heavily on Black and Native American people. MPD stopped but did not cite or arrest Black people at 5.7 times the rate at which it stopped but did not cite or arrest white people, given their shares of the population. And Native Americans were stopped but not cited or arrested at 5.9 times the rate.
Having been forced to confront this internalized bigotry following the murder of George Floyd, officers simply decided to stop complying with their employer’s policies.
Starting in late May 2020, officers suddenly stopped reporting race and gender in a large number of stops, despite MPD policy requiring officers to collect the data. We estimate the percentage of daily stops with known race data recorded dropped from about 71% just before May 25, 2020, to about 35% afterwards, a drop of roughly 36 percentage points. This sudden decrease in MPD officers recording racial data continued throughout the next two years.
This is what this kind of cop culture (which is pretty much the same cop culture no matter where in the nation you are) gets you: cops who know they won’t be punished no matter what they do.
Some officers act as though they are unconcerned about being held accountable for even egregious discriminatory misconduct. For example, in late 2020, a woman called MPD to ask about a man she believed was putting flyers threatening Black Lives Matter supporters onto vehicles. She told us that the officer who answered said Black Lives Matter was a “terrorist” organization and stated: “We are going to make sure you and all of the Black Lives supporters are wiped off the face of the Earth.” He said, “I think you should file a complaint, and I want you to do it well, so let me spell my first and my last name so you get it right. Then I’ll give you my badge number.” The woman asked to speak to a supervisor, but the officer refused to transfer her or take her contact information. The woman filed a complaint the next day but was not interviewed for seven months.
It’s not someone “acting” like they are “unconcerned” about potential punishment. This is an officer who knows he had nothing to fear in terms of reprisal.
The Minneapolis PD is headed towards a consent decree, something meant to reverse years of negative cop culture but generally just means citizens will be shelling out tens of millions of dollars for negligible reforms. All the MPD needs to do is maintain the status quo until court orders expire and the city residents find something else to focus on. The only thing that can truly change the MPD is the MPD itself. And it’s made it this far without changing so why bother doing it now?