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Minneapolis PD scrambles to ‘reform,’ distancing itself from officers’ union as threat of defunding looms

Minneapolis PD scrambles to ‘reform,’ distancing itself from officers’ union as threat of defunding looms
The chief of police in Minneapolis has cut off talks with the police union and proposed an ‘early warning’ system for officer misconduct, as he struggles to save the force from a City Council determined to disband it.

Medaria Arradondo pledged a “thorough review” of the city’s contract with the police, announcing on Wednesday that his department was pulling out of negotiations with the union to make major changes to how policing is done in Minneapolis. The chief promised to implement an early warning system that will allow supervisors to spot problematic conduct more quickly and hinted that changes to existing policies on use of force, disciplinary protocols and “critical incident protocols” were all on the table.

This work must be transformational, but I must do it right,” he told reporters, vowing to transform the much-maligned force into one which “our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart.”

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Arradondo is scrambling to position his department as both capable of and eager for reform, after the Minneapolis City Council announced earlier this week that a veto-proof majority – nine of its 13 members – was prepared to “dismantle” the MPD. Anti-police-brutality protests across the nation have mutated into calls to defund and even abolish police departments in some cities, and Minneapolis is at the center of that discussion.

The cops have some wiggle room, however. Council President Lisa Bender acknowledged on Sunday that the city hasn’t yet decided what route to take to a police-free future, explaining that “the idea of having no police department is certainly not in the short term.” Council member Phillipe Cunningham also clarified that while “potential budget cuts” were in the department’s future, the MPD “will not be abolished tomorrow.”

Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder over the death of black security guard George Floyd, on whose neck he was filmed kneeling for over eight minutes while the handcuffed Floyd pleaded for his life. Those charges were upgraded to second-degree murder last week. Arradondo fired Chauvin and the three other officers on the scene at the time of Floyd’s death the same day as the incident; however, criminal charges against the other three officers for aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter were only filed last week. The four cops face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

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Chauvin reportedly had 18 complaints against him and was involved in three shootings before ending Floyd’s life – yet just two of those complaints resulted in any disciplinary measures, and those were slap-on-the-wrist “letters of reprimand.” Even more egregiously, none of their contents have been released publicly. While Minneapolis, like many big cities, has a Police Conduct Review Board comprised half of cops and half of civilians and tasked with reviewing police misbehavior, critics have complained it lacks “teeth” and instead acts to “rubber-stamp” approval of police decisions. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who was publicly humiliated after refusing to commit to defunding the police department, has acknowledged the police union makes it difficult to remove problem officers. Former police chief Janee Harteau – forced to resign in 2017 in the wake of a series of cop shootings of civilians – claimed she was stymied by the union in her efforts to make changes in the department. Arradondo himself sued the MPD alongside four other black officers, alleging discrimination in promotions and discipline. As the city’s first black police chief, he was hailed upon his appointment as a force bringing change to a department that desperately needed it, but the hundreds of thousands of protesters who’ve flooded the streets in the wake of Floyd’s killing have made it clear the MPD has a way to go.

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