Minneapolis cops routinely use excessive force and racially discriminate, report says
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A scathing federal report has found that Minneapolis police routinely use excessive force, discriminate against Black and Native American residents and violate the rights of protesters, journalists, and people with mental illness. Attorney General Merrick Garland and other top Justice Department officials unveiled their findings today in Minneapolis. The feds say the MPD has, quote, "systemic problems," and they are working with the city to fix them. Jon Collins of Minnesota Public Radio has been following all of this and joins us now. Hi, Jon.
JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: OK, so it sounds like use of force was a key part of this report. What problems did the Justice Department specifically find there?
COLLINS: They found that Minneapolis officers routinely used excessive force without justification, including deadly force - so officers fired their guns and used other weapons in situations where there was no threat. They used force against people, including children, who had committed minor crimes or no crimes at all. Attorney General Merrick Garland said today the findings show Minneapolis officers even ignored people when they cried out for medical help.
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MERRICK GARLAND: Our review found numerous incidents in which MPD officers responded to a person's statement that they could not breathe with a version of, you can breathe. You're talking right now.
COLLINS: And that, of course, echoes the words we all heard George Floyd say as he was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, back in 2020. And it's worth noting this whole federal investigation grew out of Floyd's killing.
CHANG: Right. OK, another finding in this report was routine discrimination. What exactly does this report describe?
COLLINS: The federal investigation estimated that Black people are stopped by police more than six times as often as white people in Minneapolis. And we've heard statistics like that before in the city, but this analysis went further. They found Black and Native American people were about 20% more likely to be searched and to have force used against them by officers than a white person in the same situation. And that points towards this being a problem that's at the heart of this department's culture.
CHANG: Right. And investigators - I mean, they acknowledged that these problems you're talking about - they predate George Floyd's killing. Did the Justice Department or any city officials talk about why these problems with the department have been so persistent?
COLLINS: One issue they found was the department's system for investigating complaints and disciplining officers was just not up to par. Supervisors only reviewed some use-of-force incidents and often just took the officer's word for what happened. Federal investigators also found that complaints from the public were often dismissed or misclassified by department leaders. And even when they found there was serious misconduct, sometimes no action was taken at all. So they found big problems with the city's ability to hold officers accountable when they violated people's rights.
CHANG: Well, how are people in Minneapolis responding to the report's findings today?
COLLINS: Advocates who've worked on these sort of issues say they're mostly satisfied with this report, and city leaders say they're fully on board with the process. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara says his department is committed to building a police force that has the public's trust and keeps people safer.
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BRIAN O'HARA: I promise you today that our department will be transparent and will provide an ongoing accounting of our successes as well as our challenges while, at the same time, continuing our dedicated efforts to keep all people of Minneapolis safe and secure.
CHANG: So after compiling this report, what is the Justice Department recommending to happen next?
COLLINS: So they're negotiating what's called a consent decree, and that's an agreement that's enforced by a federal court, and it's overseen by an independent monitor. And that will likely take many months to negotiate. But some of the things they would like to see in it are a revamping of the department's use-of-force policies, the training, how they report use of force. And they also want to see the department beef up its accountability systems, including requiring officers to report misconduct and improving how citizen complaints are processed. This will all be overseen by a judge, and it could take quite a while until the city meets the conditions.
CHANG: That is Jon Collins of Minnesota Public Radio. Thank you, Jon.
COLLINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.