The Potluck

U.S. Justice Department will investigate Minneapolis for discriminatory, abusive policing

By: - April 21, 2021 9:40 am

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a Justice Department investigation into unconstitutional policing practices by the Minneapolis Police Department on April 21, 2021.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Wednesday the Department of Justice would conduct a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department to see if it has a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”

The news came a day after a jury in Hennepin County found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts of murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd last May, setting off a wave of protests across the country.

“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said.

The move by President Biden’s Justice Department marks a return to an Obama-era priority of reforming problem police departments. Under the Obama administration, federal judges issued consent decrees for dozens of city police departments including Baltimore, Cleveland and Los Angeles, forcing them to change their use of force policies and other practices.

As part of the investigation, the Department of Justice will examine if the Minneapolis Police Department has a pattern of excessive force including during protests, if it engages in discriminatory conduct and if its treatment of people with behavioral and mental health problems is unlawful.

Garland said the federal government will review the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies, training and use of force investigations and assess whether the department is effective at holding officers accountable.

“Accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community. And public safety requires public trust,” Garland said.

A recent investigation by the Reformer found Minneapolis Police Department rarely disciplines its police officers for misconduct, and when it does, it moves slowly. A review of disciplinary files from the past decade revealed the department takes 539 days on average to resolve a case that results in discipline.

The Department of Justice has already begun to reach out to community groups and residents to learn about their experiences with the police, Garland said, and will interview Minneapolis officers about the training and support they receive.

The investigation is separate from a criminal investigation the Department of Justice previously announced into George Floyd’s killing.

If the Justice Department finds evidence of unlawful or unconstitutional policing practices, it can file a civil lawsuit to force the department to change its policies.

Following the police killing of George Floyd, the state Department of Human Rights launched an investigation to determine if the Minneapolis Police Department discriminates against people of color.

As part of that investigation, which is ongoing, the city of Minneapolis agreed to make immediate changes to its policing policies, including banning neck restraints and chokeholds, requiring officers to intervene if they witness abuse, restricting the use of crowd control weapons like rubber bullets unless authorized by the police chief, allowing the city’s Civil Rights Department to audit body camera footage and requiring the city to post disciplinary decisions to its website once they are finalized.

“Most of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully,” Garland said. “I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices.”

Garland did not give a timeline for the investigation and did not take questions.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.