Transparency, accountability and more opportunities for robust community engagement were among ideas pitched by Minneapolis residents Tuesday night during a listening session regarding use of force policy changes.
Tuesday marked the first of nine planned engagement sessions conducted by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) through the end of August and into September. The sessions are required by the reform process laid out in the settlement agreement between MPD and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which found that the police department had engaged in discriminatory policing and excessive use of force.
The first three will involve discussions on the department’s use of force policies, the next three on stop, search and arrest policies, and the final three on nondiscriminatory policing.
As the department moves forward in their implementation of the settlement agreement, MPD Chief Brian O’Hara told attendees he hopes to see residents in all corners of the city feel safer, have more trust in police and report having better interactions with officers.
“The goal of the conversations that we’re going to have is, at the end of this, to have a safer city,” O’Hara said. “We are not here just to go through this checklist of things to do under a court-ordered reform – we are actually here to make change real for people, so we will be going beyond what is required to ensure that we’re able to make that happen.”
According to a presentation by Cmdr. Yolanda Wilks, head of MPD’s Implementation Unit – the new unit formed to execute the settlement agreement – the new policy divides use of force into three levels. The first involves actions like escort holds, the second includes actions like restraints and require a secondary review, and the third level triggers the involvement of Internal Affairs.
The dozens of residents in attendance were split up into several smaller groups, where attendees discussed what MPD should take into consideration when revising their use of force policies, and what steps the department should take with the community to create a better understanding of those policies. Many ideas were proposed by residents, including an apparatus for self-reporting by officers, improving accountability when an officer violates the policy and more transparency around when and how the policies are changed. Attendees also discussed the possibility of creating oversight committees, not chosen by the mayor or council members that center those who have experienced excessive use of force by police.
Michelle Gross, president of the local chapter of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), said the listening sessions would be more effective if they were designed in a way that allowed residents to read the policies first. Her organization pulled the 72-page document featuring the draft policy from the city website and put it on the CUAPB page to make it more accessible, but the city should have provided the document to those attending the listening session to facilitate a more substantive conversation, she said.
The other problem, she said, is the lack of clarity on which parts of the policy are new.
“When you look at these policies, you can’t see the difference between the old policy and the new one,” she said. “So if I see something in here that looks good to me, I can’t tell if it’s good because it was already there or because it’s new.”
A number of ideas were covered by his group, but activist Toussaint Morrison said he felt the discussion was just getting started.
“I feel like the breadth of the ideas were just touching the tip of the iceberg. We didn’t even get to what the policy was,” Morrison said. “I really felt like we were dealing with the first 100 meters of a marathon.”
But despite the robust discussion, Morrison said he is not hopeful MPD will take on most of the ideas presented by residents during the session.
“I think that there’s many ideas that were kicked around today that they are not willing to listen to,” he said. “They will be receptive to the ideas that uphold their status quo and permit them to operate as they want.”