Minneapolis police, city violated civil rights law, state concludes

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) has found the Minneapolis Police Department and City of Minneapolis engaged in a pattern of racist discrimination, violating state civil rights law. 

"The lack of collective and sustained action among city and MPD leaders has, in effect, allowed this organizational culture to fester within MPD and resulted in unlawful policing practices that undermine public safety," the report says, adding: "Without fundamental organizational culture changes, reforming MPD’s policies, procedures, and trainings will be meaningless."

MDHR says the MPD maintains a culture where officers: use higher rates of more severe force against Black people compared to their white counterparts in similar circumstances (Black individuals comprise about 19% of Minneapolis' population, but 63% of all use of force incidents that MPD officers recorded); are more likely to stop vehicles with people of color and Indigenous people because of their race; treat Black and white people differently during traffic stops; use "covert social media" to target Black leaders, Black organizations and elected officials "without a public safety objective"; and are trained to be aggressive toward community members, escalating situations. 

The report also found some MPD officers and supervisors use racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language, including in reference to their fellow officers of color and city employees, according to body-worn camera footage and interviews with officers. And officers are rarely held accountable or disciplined, a review of disciplinary records between January 2010 and April 2021 showed. 

MDHR found "The city's and MPD's accountability and oversight systems are insufficient and ineffective at holding officers accountable." According to a review of 125 internal affairs files and 164 Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) files, the report found: 

  • OPCR improperly investigates about 50% of police misconduct complaints, clearing officers of wrongdoing in nearly 40% of those cases.
  • Internal affairs improperly investigates about 25% of police misconduct complaints, clearing officers of wrongdoing in about 20% of those cases.

MDHR said it found these patterns throughout the city, so this can not be explained by the actions of one precinct, adding issues of race discrimination in policing comes down to flawed training, deficient accountability systems and a lack of collective action by the city and police leadership. 

MDHR Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement the findings paint "an unsettling picture" of the city and the MPD, adding: "Race-based policing is unlawful and harms everyone, especially people of color and Indigenous community members – sometimes costing community members their lives."

MDHR will work with the City of Minneapolis to "develop a consent decree, which is a court-enforceable agreement that identifies specific changes to be made and timelines for those changes to occur." With this process, MDHR will meet with community members, MPD officers, city staff, and others to learn more about what should be included in the consent decree to address racial discrimination in policing in Minneapolis, MDHR said.

"I look forward to the work ahead with the city, MPD, and community members to improve public safety by reversing unlawful policing practices," Lucero said.

MDHR on June 1, 2020 – days after Minneapolis police murdered George Floydfiled a charge of discrimination against the City of Minneapolis in an effort to determine if the MPD violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by engaging in a pattern of race discrimination. 

In Minnesota, which has one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country, it is illegal for a police department to discriminate against someone because of their race. 

According to MDHR, "A pattern or practice of discrimination is present where the denial of rights consists of something more than isolated, sporadic incidents, but is repeated, routine, or of a generalized nature. Such a showing may be made through statistical evidence and/or other examples of specific instances of discrimination."

MDHR looked at the past 10 years of the MPD’s policies and practices, with the goal of making lasting systemic changes to the MPD. Days after MDHR announced its investigation, it obtained a temporary court order that required the City of Minneapolis and the MPD to make immediate changes, including how officers interacted with community members. The city and MPD did incorporate the changes in the court order into their policies, MDHR says.  

In addition to the MDHR’s investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate federal investigation into the MPD. The findings have not yet been released. 

Derek Chauvin, a former MPD officer, was convicted of murdering Floyd and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison, though he is appealing his conviction. He also pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Floyd's civil rights.

Three other former MPD officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — are charged with aiding-and-abetting murder in Floyd's May 2020 death. Their trial is set to begin on June 13. Earlier this year, a federal jury convicted the men of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights during his deadly arrest.

Mayor Frey: Our Black community deserves better

Reacting to the state's finding, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city was making policy changes to address the problems highlighted by the state's report. At the same time, he admitted policy change alone wasn't enough. Frey says the Minneapolis Police Department needs a complete culture change.

"Our Black community deserves better," said Frey. "

However, the mayor didn't have many answers when asked to explain why the city hadn't acted on some key problems highlighted in the report, like officers using racist language or improper monitoring of Black activist organizations.

Frey did admit that while the city needs to refine its policies, they also have to be sure that the rules on the book are being enforced. In its report, the state noted a failure by supervisors to act and "teach" when officers committed violations. One change Frey noted, that the city has already made, is adding a city attorney to the disciplinary process to ensure investigations "are conducted as thoroughly as possible."

Frey says the city is hiring new auditors take part in internal investigations as well.

"There are officers that wake up every morning, that wear the badge that they do and the uniform they do because they want to make the city a safer place," said Mayor Frey. "To those officers that get up and do that work, we appreciate you. At the same time, we need to make sure that this kind of conduct is held accountable."

Frey says the city had a new opportunity to reform the department, as they react to the findings, which comes with a change in the city's power structure. Last year, voters approved a charter change to give Minneapolis a "strong mayor" structure. The new structure gives Mayor Frey more power over city departments. However, it's fair to note that the city charter already gave Mayor Frey purview over the police department and the chief.

Reaction to MDHR's findings

Attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, who represent the families of Floyd and Amir Locke, said in a statement Wednesday: 

"The historic finding by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of race discrimination and race-based policing caused primarily by an organizational culture is monumental in its importance. We hope this leads to placing the city and the police department under a state-ordered consent decree, which would give us assurance, at last, that real change in policing is possible, and Minneapolis can become a safer city for its Black residents. 

"We applaud Gov. Tim Walz and Chair Rebecca Lucero for her courage and tenacity in documenting and stating unequivocally what we have been arguing since the killing of George Floyd – that this pattern and practice exists, and it’s deadly for Minneapolis’ Black residents. It grieves us that this pattern and practice, which was so graphically displayed to the world in the video of George Floyd’s death, persisted for another two years to senselessly claim the life of Amir Locke, both of whom were cited in the finding. We are grateful and deeply hopeful that change is possible and is imminent. 

"We call on city, state, and Police leaders to accept the challenge of these findings and make meaningful change at last to create trust between communities of color in Minneapolis and those who are sworn to protect and serve them."

Governor Tim Walz's office declined an on-camera interview opportunity on the report. The Minneapolis delegation at the capitol also declined an interview, instead sending a written statement.

Minneapolis police union reacts

"The MDHR found that the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of race discrimination. We look forward to examining the evidence that was used to come to their determination so we can move forward as a department. We are committed to moving forward in a way that addresses identified issues head on, and restores the community’s faith in those who are entrusted with public safety." 

This is a developing story.