Critics say proposed police contract doesn’t rein in out-of-control MPD

New council member to propose postponing vote to hold a public hearing

By: - March 17, 2022 6:00 am

Protesters gathered on May 27, 2020 to demonstrate against police for the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer

Next week Minneapolis city leaders will consider the first new police union labor agreement since George Floyd was murdered by police in May 2020. 

The proposed deal makes no changes to a department disciplinary process that rarely metes out serious punishment, despite high-profile instances of police misconduct that have led to millions of dollars in payouts to victims. 

When the tentative agreement is taken up Tuesday by the Minneapolis City Council, Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah said she’ll make a motion to postpone deliberation until April and hold a public hearing on the proposed contract. If she’s unable to persuade her colleagues to do that, she said she will vote against the labor agreement.

Wonsley Worlobah joins a chorus of city progressive activists who say the proposed contract doesn’t do enough to rein in what they say is an out-of-control police department. 

Javier Morillo, former president of the SEIU Local 26, said some of the language in the tentative Minneapolis police union deal is “bonkers,” and he said it “boggles the mind” why the city didn’t broker a better deal after Floyd’s killing brought “global shame” upon the city.

Mayor Jacob Frey, City Attorney Jim Rowader declined interview requests. The city declined to make anyone available from its negotiating team.

City spokesperson Casper Hill said by limiting discipline requirements spelled out in the contract, the agreement gives the city more discretion and authority on disciplinary matters. He said state law favoring workers’ rights limited the city’s ability to make sweeping changes, but the mayor has “added layers of accountability through numerous policy reforms since taking office.” 

Since January 2020, the department has imposed disciplinary actions against 72 officers — more than the previous five years combined, he said.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis did not respond to a request for comment. But the president of the police union, Sgt. Sherral Schmidt, previously released a statement saying MPD officers “have worked through some of the toughest times in Minneapolis history” and the agreement will help the city become competitive in a tough hiring market. 

“This contract would be the beginnings of being able to recruit and retain the best candidates in a limited job pool and recognizing the employees that have remained with the city,” Schmidt said.

Wonsley Worlobah said the contract negotiation should have been an  opportunity to strengthen oversight and accountability over “one of the worst-performing police departments in the country.”

Morillo said the city should have aggressively moved to seal a deal after Floyd’s killing. “That was the moment they should’ve been rushing to the table,” Morillo said. 

Instead, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced in June 2020 he was withdrawing from labor negotiations, saying the contract would be thoroughly reviewed with the help of outside experts.

The union gained back whatever leverage it lost in the ensuing political battle, Morillo said.

“For the last two years the mayor and city have been scaring residents, playing up fear and presenting only one solution to fear of crime: expanding the police department,” Morillo said.

Then the department began hemorrhaging employees — about 300 officers since Floyd’s killing. That gave the union the upper hand, Morillo said, and an opportunity to ask for more money, bonuses and benefits. 

The proposal would retroactively pay police 1% increases to wages and longevity pay in 2020 and 1.5% in 2021. They would get 2.5% bumps to both this year, plus a 2.5% “market adjustment” to wages and longevity pay.

In an effort to retain officers, the city would also give officers lump sum payments of $3,500 once the deal is ratified, and $3,500 if they stay through the end of 2022. 

Wonsley Worlobah said the council was told the financial incentives were meant to attract and retain officers and meet the minimum staffing requirement in the city charter. But with the city doling out millions in workers’ compensation settlements to cops claiming post-traumatic stress disorder and officers leaving in droves, the way to attract and keep workers is to improve working conditions, she said.

“It’s been clear that we have a toxic work environment within MPD,” Wonsley Worlobah said. “No one wants to come and work for the most dysfunctional police departments in the country right now.”

MPD critics are also alarmed at a provision in the contract: When someone makes a request for an officer’s personnel information, the city will notify the officer of what data was requested, along with the requestor’s name.

“I find that language bonkers,” Morillo said. He worries that it could be used by officers to intimidate and harass people who criticize them.

Wonsley Worlobah said that provision sets a dangerous precedent and is “very unnerving.” While other city departments are informed of data requestors’ identities, she said, “all of us do not possess guns.” 

The city spokesperson, Hill, said the police union asked for that provision to ensure their members “are able to understand what is categorized as public data associated with their personnel file.” 

State law already requires the city to inform employees of personnel information requests upon request, Hill said. Give and take is part of collective bargaining, Hill said, and the city agreed to the union’s proposal in exchange for city requests. People can still request data anonymously, he noted.

Although Frey has long complained that arbitrators reinstate bad cops, no changes were made to disciplinary procedures.

“That’s a city that gave up,” Morillo said. “It is just mind boggling to me that this contract looks exactly like the last one when it comes to disciplinary language.”

State law grants police chiefs the authority to discipline officers for misconduct and allows a grievance process for written disciplinary actions. The city can create and update policies regarding “just cause” based on changing needs, Hill said, but state law allows arbitrators to alter discipline.

Abigail Cerra, former chair of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, wrote to the City Council asking it to consider adding a line saying all sustained misconduct must result in discipline. In late 2020, the MPD manual was quietly updated to remove a requirement that cops be disciplined for any misconduct after the PCOC questioned how MPD was “coaching” rather than disciplining cops for misconduct.

Council Member Lisa Goodman wrote back to Cerra and said the council isn’t in a position to add anything to the contract not already discussed. 

Goodman did not respond to a request for comment.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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