Minnesota mayors call on state lawmakers to overhaul police arbitration process

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo are calling on state lawmakers to fix the broken system that they say allows police officers accused of "gross misconduct" to return to the streets.

The mayor and police chief were joined by mayors from Bloomington, Brooklyn Center, and Golden Valley along with a Richfield councilmember representing the city.

According to Arradondo, arbitrators have the ability to overrule his discipline decisions when it comes to officers who have done something wrong.

Frey says this has resulted in officers who have engaged in "egregious" misconduct to return to the department regardless of what the chief has decided. Frey says this has been a major inhibitor for the police department in making the moves that will allow for a "culture change" for the department.

"To get the full structural change that we know we need in Minneapolis and cities throughout our state, we must also be focusing on a shift of culture," said Frey. "It's been mentioned before that culture eats policy for breakfast."

"Until we have the ability to shift the people, to get and retain good officers into the department," said Frey. "And to get officers that do not subscribe to our chief's mentality of integrity and compassion out of the department, we will forever be hamstrung."

He wants the arbitrators to be stripped of the power to reduce or remove punishments imposed by police chiefs when the chief proves the officers have engaged in egregious conduct. That conduct would include when officers:

  • Lie in a formal statement
  • Engage in excessive use of force
  • Failing to report using force
  • Failing to intervene when another officer is using excessive force

Frey says the problems with the arbitration process extends beyond Minneapolis as well.

"This is not just a Minneapolis issue," said Frey. "This is a Minnesota issue."

The changes would have to be approved at the state level and it appears there is some bipartisan support for the changes.

State lawmakers are currently in the midst of a special session considering a package of police changes. Reforms to the arbitration process were proposed last week by Governor Walz and DFL members.

Republican House Representative Patrick Garofalo also introduced legislation that would eliminate arbitration for public employees.

“Sadly, a small number of police officers, teachers, and other public employees, give their professions a bad name," wrote Rep. Garofalo when announcing the legislation last week. "The current arbitration process protects these individuals and is why some bad apples have not been fired."

Leaders say the state's police chief's association has also backed the changes to the arbitration process.

However, representatives with Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association doubted the mayor's premise, saying Minneapolis has all the power right now to hire and fire officers on their force. Also, citing data from the Bureau of Mediation Services, the group said that officer firings are upheld by arbitrators at a higher rate than other public employees.

Full statement from Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association

“Public safety officials share the goal of improving community trust in order to best protect and serve. In addition, public safety officials want and deserve accountability and as well as fair treatment.

“This proposed change to only one type of public employee union does not address the core issue of improving trust and simply erodes worker protection and due process. 

“It’s important to note that police chiefs are responsible for hiring decisions, training, and have the full authority to hire and fire officers. For example, the Minneapolis Police Federation (the local union) has not been part of these activities. In addition, the Mayor and City Council have agreed, by vote, to every labor agreement which includes binding arbitration, and they can negotiate changes. 

“The system of workplace justice – which is closely akin to our criminal justice system in many respects – requires that all public employees, even police officers, have the opportunity to contest discipline before a neutral third-party.”