We knew a lot about Minneapolis police, but we did nothing | Column

April 27, 2022 3:03 pm

The report from the state Department of Human Rights contends that "MPD teaches a paramilitary culture to new officer hires and reinforces these concepts with veteran officers." Photo by Chad Davis.

The most troubling thing about the scathing state report released Wednesday about the Minneapolis Police Department is how unsurprising much of it is. 

We already knew a lot of it, and if you ask Black, Indigenous and Latino Minnesotans, they’ll be least surprised by the findings of a “a pattern or practice of race discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.” 

We knew there was a culture of casual racism, evidenced by the time two officers dressed up a Christmas tree with menthol cigarettes, a can of malt liquor and police tape in the Fourth Precinct, which is located in one the historically Black parts of the city. The report confirms our worst suspicions, that police use horrible racial epithets to refer to the people they ostensibly protect and serve, and adds a newer twist: Misogyny. 

“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.” 

(Though to be sure we already knew they are really bad at investigating sexual assault.)

We already knew they treated Black and Indigenous people differently than white people, that they were more likely to stop, search, use force on and cite them, based on data analysis. The report confirms and expands on what we knew, including this subhead, which caused a rueful laugh: “MPD officers are more likely to use soft tactics on white individuals than Black individuals in similar circumstances.”

We knew they were terrible at training after KARE 11 reported that nearly 150 training officers had a history of misconduct. The report confirms and expands on what we knew: “Problematic policing tactics are often compounded and embedded in MPD’s trainings.” 

We knew MPD was a paramilitary culture, with officers acting like some Michigan militia with expensive toys, as in the case of Jaleel Stallings, which the Reformer first reported last year. The report confirms and expands on what we knew, citing a “paramilitary approach to policing that results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force.” 

We knew they failed to discipline officers, as the Reformer reported in a 2020 investigation, “The Bad Cops.” 

Some of what is in the report is not widely known. 

“MPD officers used MPD covert accounts, unrelated to any actual or alleged criminal activity, to seek and gain access to Black individuals’ social media profiles, as well as social media profiles of Black groups and organizations, such as the NAACP and Urban League.” 

Another way of putting it: Unconstitutional spying. 

“In social media posts and messages, MPD officers used language to further racial stereotypes associated with Black people, especially Black women.”

Your tax dollars at work! 

“MPD officers also used MPD’s covert accounts to pose as community members … to post comments and content online attacking police critics and criticizing local officials.” 

They used covert accounts — fake accounts — to pose as citizens and send private messages to elected officials, including an unnamed Minneapolis City Council member and an unnamed state elected official.  

When I wrote last year that we should abolish the police union, I was specifically talking about the dangers of police political activity, and apparently my fears were well founded. 

The report from the state Department of Human Rights — buttressed by hundreds of interviews, a review of 700 hours of body worn camera footage and nearly 480,000 pages of city and MPD documents — illustrates that responsibility for the problems in the department go well beyond the current mayor and recent police chiefs, however culpable they are. 

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith was chief of staff to former Mayor R.T. Rybak, who won with the police union endorsement. He and other elected officials are called out in the report, if not by name: “Leaders have not collectively acted with the urgency, coordination, and intentionality necessary…. These leaders include past and present elected and appointed officials, such as the mayors, who ultimately oversee the police chiefs.”

In 2012, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who also won the police union endorsement, signed a bill that defanged the Civilian Review Authority at the behest of the police union and over the objections of city officials, including Rybak. 

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was Hennepin County attorney for eight years, just prior to the time period covered during the state Department of Human Rights investigation. It seems she must have known this was going on. And if she didn’t, perhaps she had her eyes wilfully closed, her mind’s eye focused on visions of the U.S. Senate and maybe the White House. 

Mayor Jacob Frey knew all this, but he hitched his star to former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was in the center of the rot. Arradondo was once the head of internal affairs before he achieved his dream of becoming the feckless leader of a malignant organization. 

The report blows up Arradondo’s excuses for why his regime didn’t discipline more bad cops, like cop-friendly arbitrators and an obstinate police union. 

The report notes that cases piled up on his desk: “MPD inconsistently and irregularly issues officers discipline even though, as demonstrated by this investigation and detailed in these findings, incidents of police misconduct are prevalent.”

This finding may explain the mayor’s recent media push to show all the discipline they meted out in 2020 and 2021, resulting in roughly 10% of officers facing some kind of sanction. 

(It wound up being a strange kind of flex: In what kind of organization are one out of 10 people disciplined?)

It’s probably asking a lot of average Minnesotans to have known the inner workings of the Minneapolis Police Department. 

And Minnesotans don’t like to upset the apple cart. Don’t want to be rude. Wouldn’t be nice. And, really, it’s not my problem, is it?

Too many of us — until 2020, myself included — paid no attention, even though so much of the report’s findings were already known. 

Which is morally obtuse, especially in light of today’s report. 

The Minneapolis Police Department must be taken over by the U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Minnesota post haste, and Minnesotans should welcome this intervention with open arms. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children