Gov. Tim Walz, with all good intent, made promises of reform he couldn’t keep (because he doesn’t control the Legislature) to the communities that were directly affected by the wrongful death of George Floyd. U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in his continuing effort to establish himself as the worst attorney general of all time, has failed to reply to a June 11 request by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith for a DOJ investigation.
Both of these initiatives represent the very same kind of failed solution for reform that members of the affected communities were saying during the protests have failed to bring about “real change” in the past. Politicians coming in from outside their communities “listening to folks,” making promises to deliver overpowering legislation to fix problems for them, from the outside in and the top down, haven’t solved the problems in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) in the past. So why do we keep doing the same things over and over again that haven’t worked in the past, and still expect that people in the affected communities should have reason to believe that real change will happen?
Fix from the bottom up and the inside out
Problems in organizations like the MPD unfold from the bottom up and the inside out. Unfortunately, just about every action taken or proposed to fix the MPD has been an effort to monster truck crush the MPD with legislation, without any regard at all for the well-being of the “good cops” who reside there — without any protective and supportive regard at all for the people within the department that everyone in search of real change need to fix the MPD from the bottom up and the inside out.
These are the kinds of solutions that everyone should be creating to solve the problems in the MPD, from the bottom up and the inside out:
1) Consider if you will, that Bob Kroll doesn’t get to choose the kind or number of officers he represents. He can’t bring “bad officers” on to the force to join a band of bad actors who are already there, because he doesn’t have the power to hire anyone. Nor does he have the power to discipline or fire “bad officers.” Nor does he have the power to reward “bad officers” with promotions and awards. If the perception that the MPD is overloaded with “bad officers” is true, then the responsibility for that condition falls directly on management.
If Kroll is destructively overstepping his bounds by interfering with the management operations of the MPD, that’s an unfair labor practice (ULP). Kroll has done many things that should have resulted in the successful prosecution of ULPs filed by management. Why then hasn’t he been shut down by the cost of fighting numerous legitimate ULP claims filed by management? Now, take the answer to that question and create a solution.
Solution: The focus of attention by outside investigative authorities, authorities who have direct knowledge and experience in law enforcement and knowledge about best practices, (not members of the community who have never had to actually do the things that police officers have to do), should focus directly on management.
2) It is inconceivable that the political antics of Kroll would ever be tolerated in the federal sector. The Hatch Act strongly limits the political activities of all federal employees, including union representatives. In addition, federal unions are required to separate union business from political advocacy. Even the appearance of wrongdoing in the federal sector isn’t tolerated.
Solution: If the feds can enact legislation and establish policy to accomplish these objectives, so can the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the Minnesota Legislature.
Create a different law enforcement culture
3) If in fact the MPD is overloaded with “bad cops,” then don’t the “good cops” in the MPD have an obligation to report the misconduct of “bad cops” to “good management,” if it exists? Don’t they have an obligation to do this, just as the three officers who stood by in the George Floyd incident had a duty to intervene?
True it is that “bad cops” almost universally agree that loyalty to each other is more important than honesty and integrity and doing the right thing. So do criminals in prisons and in gangs on the street, who label whistleblowers as “snitches.”
“Good cops” working for good management who have good whistleblower protection systems for reporting waste, fraud, abuse, and poor management, don’t within reason operate as if loyalty is more important than honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing.
This isn’t fairytale talk. I am a 70-year-old retired federal law enforcement officer. Yes, federal law enforcement officers do report the serious wrongdoing of coworkers — wrongdoing that results in disciplinary actions including terminations of employment — and they are supported by their coworkers for doing so. Yes, law enforcement cultures like this really do exist.
Solution: If a culture of law enforcement as I suggest exists on the federal level and in other police departments, then it can be created at the local level by good managers and good officers who are committed to doing the right thing, in the public interest, for the public good. Create a special division in the Office of the Hennepin County Attorney, where all whistleblower complaints from the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County would be filed. It should become the duty of the county attorney to investigate all claims, protect whistleblowers from all reprisals, determine if sanctions should be administrative or criminal, and to sanction whistleblowers who knowingly file fraudulent claims. It should be a place where whistleblowers can go to solve problems, without violating any security concerns by going public.
4) In a crisis, officers do what they are trained to do. I would be shocked to discover that there is any law enforcement agency in the country that teaches line officers when and how to rightfully usurp authority, to include refusing to follow the orders of management. (Been there! Done that! Too many times!)
Solution: Create both clear and gray area role-play scenarios that show officers when and how to rightfully refuse orders. Then, put line officers through these role-play scenarios, so that in real life when something like the George Floyd incident occurs, the odds that another officer on the scene will actually intervene will go way up.
If the solution above is implemented, it will decrease the odds that a bad manager will give an intentionally bad order to a line officer, for fear of defiance and subsequent reporting. It will create a demand for ranking officers on the scene to be respectfully cognizant of his or her team members’ concerns and ideas, such that when one officer raises a concern (like, maybe we should turn him on his side), everyone will take that concern seriously.
Don’t get rid of third-party binding arbitration
If … if the MPD is encumbered with “bad officers,” “bad management,” and a bad union president, and, if “we the people” need good officer whistleblowers to come forward to help us deal with bad actors within the MPD, then the worst possible thing that anyone can do is to weaken in any way the worker protections provided by the police union and third-party binding arbitration. (The language of qualified immunity, not binding arbitration, is the problem). I have lived through the absence of binding arbitration in law enforcement, and I am here to tell you that only poor and unethical managers stand to gain from it. One of the finest officers I have ever known died because binding arbitration wasn’t available.
Put yourself in the place of a good MPD police officer who feels obligated to blow the whistle. Whom would you trust to have your back? “We the people” in the affected communities, given their actions over the past few weeks? Fellow officers who believe that loyalty is more important than honesty? Not a chance! The mayor and police management who have been extremely short on overt public support for the good officers in the department and quick to throw under the bus the union that protects your due process rights? Bob Kroll? A citizen review board? I guarantee you that across the country right now, good cops are having kitchen table conversations with spouses about alternatives to continued employment as a police officer.
Somehow, people seem to think that government managers are the only people who are looking out for the interests of the public, and that members of labor and labor unions are only looking out for their own diametrically opposed self-serving interests. (Teacher unions have historically been thrown under the bus in the same dark light.) In real life, nothing could be further from the truth.
Better to light just one little candle than it is to curse the darkness. These are the kinds of solutions that everyone should be creating to solve the problems in the MPD, from the bottom up and the inside out. Come on Minneapolis! Show us what you’ve got!
John A. Mattsen of New Brighton is a retired federal law enforcement officer who worked in a federal prison for 28 years and was on the riot squad for 20 years. He was a union official in various capacities for 25 years; he served in the Minnesota Air National Guard for six years.
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