Why so few people believe the Minneapolis Police Department has changed since Betsy Hodges became mayor

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Mayor Betsy Hodges and acting Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo at a July press conference.

From the moment she took office three-and-a-half years ago, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has made police reform a centerpiece of her agenda.

Along with former Chief Janeé Harteau, Hodges has pushed through a series of changes, from retraining officers to recognize their implicit biases to prioritizing de-escalation in potentially deadly confrontations.

Heading into her re-election campaign, the lengthy list of reforms and changes should be one of her advantages. That is, if anyone knew about them. Or believed they were real. 

Instead, amid another incident that has put the department and the city under increased scrutiny, there remains a conspicuous disconnect between Hodges’ frequent recitation of what she has done since taking office with the MPD and an oft-spoken critique: that nothing is being done to reform the department.

The assessment doesn’t just come from residents and activists or via social media. After the police shooting of southwest Minneapolis resident Justine Damond on July 15, state Rep. Ilhan Omar sent out a statement that included accusations that the officer who shot Damond, Mohamed Noor, was acting based on his training. “The idealist in me continues to be surprised,” wrote Omar. “But I know this incident is another result of excessive force and violence-based training for supposed peace officers.” 

She added later that, “the current officer training program indoctrinates individuals of all races into a system that teaches them to act first, think later, and justify with fear.” 

What’s being done

That the work on reform hasn’t resonated with the general public clearly frustrates Hodges. While she said she called Omar to let her know what was happening and to ask her input on reaching out to the community — especially Minneapolis Somali-American community — she said she doesn’t recall whether they talked about changes to police training.

Still, after rehearing Omar’s post-shooting statement, Hodges said she has been asking people whether they think she should do something more — or different. “Are there changes that we need to make to our training?” Hodges said during an interview Friday in her City Hall office. “Acting Chief [Medaria] Arradondo has also asked that question as well.”

But Minneapolis police training is not what Omar describes, Hodges said. All MPD officers, both veterans and those who have joined the force recently, have been trained in new approaches to policing. Among other things, all officers who field 911 calls have undergone crisis intervention training to help them better respond to calls involving someone in a mental-health crisis. And the department has instituted an early intervention program to identify officers with potential problems — based on civilian complaints — and step in before they lead to misconduct.

“I agree with Rep. Omar that we need policing that focuses on guardians, not warriors,” said Hodges. “That’s why we’ve specifically focused on changing the culture of policing in the city and how we’ve trained our officers. And we’re not done yet. We need to make sure that the tools that we’ve put into place are working and that the community experiences the results of policy changes.”

State Rep. Ilhan Omar
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
State Rep. Ilhan Omar

As a result of the city’s involvement in National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, city cops have undergone implicit bias and procedural justice training. The former attempts to point out officers’ inherent biases so that they are aware of them and not to let them guide decision-making, while the latter is based on the concept that residents who feel they are treated fairly and are listened to (even if they are still cited or arrested) will have better views of the interaction. 

The MPD has also changed its use-of-force policies, which now declare that the lives of both officers and suspects should be protected. For the first time, the policy also states that cops have a duty to intervene if another officer is using excessive force, to render first aid quickly, and to report possible misconduct. 

In addition, the department is also stressing community policing, and recent city budgets have added officers to the force in order to give police more time to interact with the public and spend more time on calls. The city now tracks what are termed “positive interactions” between officers and the public, under the theory that if performance measures include positive interactions officers will consider them important. 

The department is also making attempts to diversify the force, both by race and gender. And while alternative training programs have been questioned in the aftermath of the Damond shooting and will be reviewed, Hodges said they have been effective in bringing people from different backgrounds into police work. 

The city’s current budget also sets aside $500,000 for a pilot program in two areas — West Broadway in north Minneapolis and the Little Earth tribal community in south Minneapolis — to let the community choose programs that increase public safety outside of traditional law enforcement.

‘I have not done as good a job as I could’ 

The list does go on and on. And yet, the critique that reform hasn’t gone far enough, fast enough, persists.

Hodges partly blames herself, and says she’s tried to correct her own reticence to brag about the city’s accomplishments. “I continue to own that in the past I have not done as good a job as I could at communicating the work that I was doing,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of course corrections on that.”

But she said it could also be that human nature responds better to news about problems than solutions. “So that isn’t whether or not I’m saying things; it’s about whether people have the attention or the ears to hear.”

While she admits to some exasperation about the situation, she said she would continue to try to communicate better via social media, in public appearances and in conversations, “realizing that sometimes there tends to be more focus on the problem than on the solutions in media, or just in day-to-day conversations people have with one another.” 

“It’s understandable why people are frustrated right now,” she continued. “Terrible, heartbreaking things have happened and are happening in our communities. It was more puzzling when fewer people were deeply upset about it. 

“So, yes, I wish the good work that we have done was getting a wider audience that was receptive to seeing it at its face,” Hodges said. But she said the fact that “a lot of people aren’t yet in a place to take it on its face,” can be used to craft a way to communicate the message better. “That’s why building trust is so important.” 

A lack of trust

But there is another possible explanation for the disconnect that the mayor has had to confront: that residents simply don’t believe the city; don’t believe the police department and don’t believe her. 

As part of the National Initiative, social scientists conducted surveys that attempted to gauge perceptions about police in communities with a history of mistreatment and neglect. And though the data were not specific to Minneapolis, the results were bleak. Asked questions such as do they believe police “treat people with dignity and respect,” only 30 percent of respondents gave a four or five grade (on a scale of one to five). Whether they “respect people’s rights,” was given high marks by just 30 percent.

Former Chief Janeé Harteau
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
Former Chief Janeé Harteau

When asked whether they and the police “want the same things for your community,” only 41 percent of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed. And 55.5 percent agreed or strongly agreed that “police officers will treat you differently because of your race/ethnicity.”

That could explain why, when Hodges decided to shut down the occupation of the 4th Precinct because she said was endangering public safety, some accused her of trying to stifle dissent. And why, when she said a budget amendment was needed to make repairs and improvements to that station house, some accused her of trying to fortify it against the community.

There is also the fact of life that it takes just one ugly and tragic incident like the Damond shooting to set back what has been accomplished. The failure of officers Noor and partner Matthew Harrity to activate body cameras, for example, has set back a program that was specially aimed at increasing trust and transparency —  something Arradondo acknowledged in the aftermath of Damond’s death, telling officers that the department can supply them with all the equipment they need except the benefit of the doubt.

“It doesn’t negate the pieces of the foundation that are in place,” Hodges said. “It doesn’t negate the policy changes; it doesn’t negate the training; it doesn’t negate the hiring and the investment and the community strategies. All of those will remain in place. The flip side is, does it reduce tentative trust that may have been building? Absolutely it does.”

Redistributing discomfort? 

In her state of the city speech delivered earlier this year, Hodges talked a lot about “discomfort”:  “Nowhere have we faced the headwinds of discomfort more than in the work we are doing to transform public safety, policing and police — community relations — and nowhere are we sticking with the work more tenaciously through the discomfort, to the benefit of everyone,” she said. 

So who is uncomfortable? “Discomfort is a mild word for what people have experienced regarding policing,” Hodges said. “Communities of color have been uncomfortable about policing for generations. Communities of color have been organizing around, upset about, naming the disparity in policing for generations.”

“Over the last two years, that has become part of the national conversation between communities of color and white communities, and now white people are uncomfortable about policing,” she said. “What’s new is the discomfort has been expanded, redistributed.”

But if some on the left do not believe or do not accept that the reform attempts are legitimate, some on the right believe they are both real and illegitimate. In her state of the city speech, Hodges spoke of those who think the changes will handcuff police and harm public safety, and even challenged what she termed a myth that she and Harteau told officers not to enforce the law as aggressively as they had in the past.

Today, Hodges says she understands that some people are concerned about what the city is doing regarding policing. “It is not clear to me what changes people want in addition to the ones we are making,” she said. “Which isn’t to say people don’t have ideas, it’s just not clear to me.” 

“It is also understandable to me that at a time when people aren’t trusting policing they would have a lot of questions about whether or not the steps we’ve taken are the right ones or effective,” she said.

And while she is eager to discuss what’s she’s done, why she thinks it will be effective, and to hear about other ideas — that conversation has to start with an agreement that the city is going to have law enforcement.

“Not everybody starts from there; I do,” she said. “If we start from the premise that there will be a police department, then what do we do to make sure it is the best and most-effective police department we can have.”

One example of that is the pilot projects in north Minneapolis and Little Earth, which came in response to calls for more involvement from the community in deciding how to achieve safety, including the idea that not all responses to issues need to come from uniformed officers.

How long is long enough?

In speeches, Hodges often mentions that she is playing a long game on police reform; that the changes she thinks are necessary will take a while to see to fruition.

But how long will it take to see if those efforts are effective?

“I’ve heard that it takes five to seven years to do real culture change,” she said. “We’re probably in the middle of year four, headed to year five.” 

“I will keep doing this work, I will keep making the changes needed and following that up with concrete action as long as that takes and as long as I’m leading. My hope is that people on the ground are going to be able to experience these changes very viscerally over the course of the next two, three, four years.” 

Former Chief Harteau was the face of the reconciliation message that’s been part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. She was the one meeting with the community and delivering apologies in what she called “empathy and healing sessions.”

With Harteau’s resignation (at Hodges’ request) and the ascension of Deputy Chief Arradondo, Hodges does not expect a disruption in the department’s response to the National Initiative work, or other reform measures. Arradondo, a 28-year-veteran known as “Rondo,” has been one of the leaders in many of the reform efforts, including the National Initiative work, the use of force changes and the body camera implementation. And he joined Hodges last month in calling for policies that will greatly reduce the discretion officers have for activating cameras.

Hodges said that her desire for continuity on those issues was one of the factors that caused her to nominate Arradondo for the permanent job as chief. But she also wants him in the role because, “I know he also has fresh thinking and has ideas for how to take the work to the next level as well as the relationships and the communication skills to ingrain the work that already been done.”

“And because we’ve asked so much change, one of the other factors was to make sure we are bringing stability to the department,” she said. “There’s a lot of change happening in the MPD, and I wanted to make sure there was stability with a known leader who is deeply and widely respected and liked both inside the department and out in the city.”

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 08/07/2017 - 02:09 pm.

    Why People don’t believe anything has changed.

    Any normal citizen would assume that a regular duty of a police officer is to file a report with complete details of what happened whenever he/she makes an arrest or is involved in any incident that results in physical injury to any person.

    It is inexpiable why the police department has not insisted that Officer Noor cooperate in the investigation of this shooting and explain what happened. While he may have a constitutional right not to incriminate himself, that does not relieve him of his professional responsibility to file the necessary reports and cooperate with the investigation. If he decides that he doesn’t want to do that to avoid incriminating himself, then the logical response of the police department should be to immediately terminate him.

    Further adding to the general distrust of the department was Chief Harteau’s decision to continue her vacation instead of immediately returning to Mpls to deal with the biggest crisis of her career. When she finally did return after 5 days, she didn’t have the slightest explanation of anything related to this case, including why it took the police department 9 minutes to respond to a 911 call of a potential rape in progress. She should have been all over this from the minute the incident happened.

    Fundamentally, nothing is going to change until the police department changes its policy so the mere fact that an officer unholsters his weapon is treated with the same seriousness as an actual shooting. Once an officer points a weapon at someone, bad things are much more likely to happen.

  2. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 08/07/2017 - 04:11 pm.

    Changes in the Police Department

    What I have observed in all this is a lack of being involved with the community. When the police commander was being chosen for 4th Precinct, we hear her reaction to the person the police chief has chosen. The problem I see is that she did not meet with police chief and the community leaders on North Side before a decision was made. I know of so many people who have encounters with police where the police have interacted inappropriate to individuals in the past and now. It seems as though they lack psychology or social skill training. As a person with a Bachelor of Social Work, I just have to wonder about what really happens when the officers actually interact with the community itself. I see a mayor who reacts instead of prevents problems by having a real discussion with the community and the police chief on issues where she knows there is a problem between the two. It is a lack of a collaborative approach where we sit down and work together which bothers me and many residents. I see all kinds of high end projects being developed and nothing for us low income people, such as: affordable housing, $15 an hour jobs, job training. This gets at the root of crime: economics. I have had a whole lot of temporary jobs in the last nine years, many of which are in the suburbs, not in Minneapolis where I live and prefer to work. Some of these things need to be looked at. I see a lack of concern in the actions. I hear the lip service, but where are these things. A whole lot of people now have temporary jobs through temporary agencies and the ordinance on minimum wage does not help us. We need public transportation which is run by the county not the state because the Republicans do not value public transportation. I think if you make less than $15 you should be getting a free bus pass. We also need a sustainable bus system which reaches out to the suburbs where more jobs seem to be created. You can only do that with 1 to 2% county tax instead letting Republicans try to cut our system 40%. Where is the mayor on these issues? I like to see real progress on these things. I would like to see a mayor who really cares to interact with the community and work on these others issues which contribute to crime.

  3. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 08/07/2017 - 05:11 pm.

    Frustration

    The mayor may be frustrated that the citizens aren’t applauding her accomplishments.

    I, for one, am frustrated that she really hasn’t accomplished anything.

    The MPD is still out of control.

  4. Submitted by Shaina Brassard on 08/08/2017 - 11:39 am.

    Tell me about this $500K pilot program

    I would really, really like to hear about how this is going:
    “The city’s current budget also sets aside $500,000 for a pilot program in two areas — West Broadway in north Minneapolis and the Little Earth tribal community in south Minneapolis — to let the community choose programs that increase public safety outside of traditional law enforcement.”

    Please consider doing an article JUST on that program. Ask the mayor for details, budgets, who is being awarded the money, and how the communities are “choosing”. At the same time, ask people in those communities their perspective on the program. I fear the budget allocation is just a talking point, with no significant funds being shared with the place-based organizations, and maybe even lining the pockets of out of state consultants.

  5. Submitted by Michelle Gross on 08/10/2017 - 03:48 pm.

    One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

    Part of why the community has no faith in these so-called changes is that they rarely result in actual changes in conduct and are quite often rescinded later. We wrote the following commentary but could not get any media outlet to take it up. I guess back-stepping is not all that interesting.

    Michelle G.
    Communities United Against Police Brutality
    ********************************************************************
    MPD Should Not Cave to Union Pressure:
    Department Must Adopt Best Practices on Deadly Force

    Through leaked information to the Star Tribune, the public recently learned that the Minneapolis Police Department has backed away from important updates to its use of deadly force policy. Apparently, the union objected to these changes and their input prevailed.

    The two changes involved a strong recommendation to avoid shooting into or from a moving vehicle and a prohibition against officers taking actions that unnecessarily put themselves or others in harm’s way “so that deadly force becomes their only option to resolve the situation.”

    Shooting a gun is not as it appears on the television or in video games. Shooting from or into a moving vehicle creates significant risk of shooting innocent bystanders or passengers. In a recent example in late April, a Texas police officer killed an innocent 15-year-old passenger as the vehicle he was riding in was driving away from a party. The officer was fired and faces murder charges. Closer to home, Minneapolis taxpayers recently paid out $150,000 when Officer Efrem Hamilton shot into a car full of people as it was backing up as instructed by another officer.

    In August 2016, the Minneapolis Police Department adopted a provision recognizing the sanctity of life as a cornerstone of their use of force policy. A prohibition on officers unnecessarily putting themselves at risk naturally follows such a provision.

    There is a concept in policing known as state-created danger. In other words, police officers should not create the danger and then apply deadly force to resolve it. In deadly force incidents, officers often claim “I feared for my life.” But if a police officer steps in front of a moving vehicle, he has clearly put himself in danger. In one such incident in St. Paul, a police officer jumped on the hood of a moving car exiting a parking lot and shot the driver through the windshield. Fortunately, that driver survived.

    The two changes that the department is now backing away from are best practices according to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The US Department of Justice also endorses and promotes these practices. The Minneapolis Police Department should not be bullied by police union recalcitrance into retracting these important—and lifesaving—policy changes.

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