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State human rights commissioner: MPD can’t coach officers for substantial misconduct


State human rights commissioner: MPD can’t coach officers for substantial misconduct

Mar 31, 2023 | 5:32 pm ET
By Deena Winter
State human commissioner says MPD won’t be allowed to coach officers for substantial misconduct
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara discusses the state settlement with Minneapolis over racist policing. Photo by Photo by H. Jiahong Pan

A settlement between the state Department of Human Rights and the city of Minneapolis will seek to correct one of the more glaring problems of the Minneapolis Police Department: Its failure to discipline and remove its worst officers

The 144-page settlement announced Friday comes nearly a year after the state found the city and its police department have engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination in policing.

The U.S. Department of Justice will weigh in with its own investigatory findings, and the city is expected to come to a separate settlement with the federal government. 

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved the settlement with the state Friday, triggering a four-year process — although officials said changing the culture of the department will take even longer — to include the hiring of some 27 employees and likely costing millions of dollars. The city has already begun to make some of the changes, but the process could take over a decade, said Rebecca Lucero, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Among those changes are processes intended to discipline problem officers like Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd on Memorial Day in 2020. Chauvin had 18 misconduct complaints and kneeled on a 14-year-old boy’s back for 17 minutes in 2017, but was never formally disciplined prior to coming upon Floyd. 

Lucero said the settlement addresses MPD’s use of so-called coaching as a substitute for discipline, which has been a common practice for more than a decade, even in cases in which officers have been accused of serious violations.

The coaching referrals tend to keep police misconduct allegations secret because state law only requires records be made public if they result in formal discipline.

Over the past decade, about 90% of sustained misconduct violations have resulted in coaching, according to a lawsuit against the city launched by open records advocates.

Lucero said there’s nothing wrong with coaching, except in cases of substantial misconduct.

But the agreement says “discipline doesn’t include routine supervision or coaching” — seems to reinforce the city’s policy.

City Attorney Kristyn Anderson said the agreement recognizes coaching is not considered discipline, and permits coaching for certain low-level misconduct if it’s unrelated to:

• MPD policies on non-discriminatory and impartial policing.

• Use of force, stops, searches, citations, arrests, and an officer’s duty to intervene or report excessive force.

• It’s an isolated incident and it had a negligible impact on community trust of MPD.

But MDHR Deputy Commissioner Irina Vaynerman said in an interview the agreement requires that a “full and robust” investigation be done for misconduct complaints, and if substantial misconduct is found, the officer must be disciplined.

“It can’t just be immediately just referred for coaching,” Vaynerman said. “There has to be a detailed, substantive review to figure out what happened and what needs to happen to correct it.”

Coaching will still be allowed, but not for allegations like misuse of force, which require a full investigation, Vaynerman said.

The agreement requires the city to publish on a new website the number of officers who received coaching for violating the non-discriminatory and impartial policing policies.

In late 2020, the MPD policy manual was quietly updated to remove a requirement that cops be disciplined for any misconduct. Until then, the manual said sustained violations of the MPD code of conduct “shall” result in discipline ranging from written reprimand to termination. 

The agreement includes a new review panel that would review misconduct complaints in detail and recommend to the chief whether the complaint has merit.

The whole settlement agreement should result in fewer complaints, assuming fewer officers violate policy, Vaynerman said.

Among other settlement provisions related to discipline: The Office of Police Conduct Review and Internal Affairs must conduct quality, timely investigations independent of each other. The state found investigators fail to properly investigate a significant portion of police misconduct complaints, often failing to review body-worn camera footage or interview relevant witnesses.

MPD must create a searchable database with “robust data collection” and more transparency about misconduct.

The settlement includes other key planks not related to discipline.

Among them: 

  • Training in de-escalation, a ban on paramilitary training and using force to punish or retaliate and limited use of chemical irritants and Tasers.
  • A ban on pretextual traffic stops — the state found MPD is more likely to pull over, cite, search, arrest and use force on people of color, particularly Black people — and search and frisks based on marijuana odor.

Lucero said officers can still rely on reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop people, they just have to police in a nondiscriminatory way.

To the doubters, Lucero said the settlement is different from other police reform efforts because it’s legally binding and court enforceable, with ongoing oversight.

“It means the city cannot walk away,” she said.

Updated at 8:48 p.m. Friday.