The settlement agreement between the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) and City of Minneapolis was approved and issued as a court order by a Hennepin County judge on Thursday.
The court order, which aims to bring about substantial reforms to the city’s police department, officially makes the agreement — years in the making — legally enforceable.
Hennepin County Judge Karen Janisch listened to the two parties urge the court to accept the agreement, which came about after MDHR last year concluded its nearly two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department and found a decade-long pattern of racially discriminatory policing like disproportionately excessive use of force against Black residents.
More than eight months of negotiations later, in March, MDHR and city officials agreed on a 144-page document featuring sweeping changes to MPD’s policies and procedures, ranging from use of force to accountability and oversight.
“We cannot bring back George Floyd, we cannot undo the harms that have been done already, but what we can do is prevent further harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Megan McKenzie, who was representing MDHR. “We can, through our collected and sustained efforts, remake the relationship between citizens of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department so that everyone benefits from lawful nondiscriminatory policing and better public safety.”
Multiple community groups filed briefs ahead of the hearing opposing the current iteration of the agreement. Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) expressed concern about how the settlement agreement relates to collective bargaining by police and whether future police union contracts will ignore reforms by putting it in their contract. A brief from the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information asks for the agreement to be revised to ensure it doesn’t contradict the state’s data practices act.
MDHR lawyers agreed with the city attorneys’ response dismissing the briefs, which simply states the settlement agreement does not supersede state laws and therefore must comply with them.
Now that the court-enforceable agreement is officially a court order, City Attorney Kristyn Anderson said during a news conference following the hearing that it triggers several deadlines outlined in the agreement, including finding an independent evaluator — which will actually be a team of people — to oversee the city’s progress.
“A lot of the first pieces, once we get that independent evaluator in place, is getting the policy reforms and policy revisions that were agreed upon in the settlement agreement approved by the independent evaluators,” she said. “We’ve got to change the policy before you can train on the policy.”
MDHR and the city are in the process of evaluating finalists for the position, who will then go before the public at community listening sessions before one is chosen. Anderson said fulfilling all of the recommendations outlined in the report will be a “huge lift,” but was made easier by policy changes made during negotiations to get a head start on the process.
The U.S. Department of Justice last month concluded its own pattern-or-practice investigation into MPD, and is currently negotiating its own consent decree with the city. Though there will be two court-enforceable agreements, one state and one federal, one independent evaluator team will oversee both agreements.
Both city and state lawyers said they don’t anticipate any overlap between the state and federal agreements that would prevent the city from fulfilling either party’s agreement.
“There is going to be a lot of work that the city is going to need to be doing in the very near future to get this staffed up and get these processes and systems developed and training programs developed and implemented,” said Judge Janisch. “I want to hope that the city is up to that task and that you can find good people to be able to carry this forward and to start implementing the framework.”