Minneapolis Agrees to Sweeping Changes in Policing

A deal with state human-rights officials calls for the city’s police to rein in the use of force and cease practices that critics say have been racially discriminatory.

MINNEAPOLIS — The city of Minneapolis agreed on Friday to make sweeping changes in policing, including a pledge to rein in the use of force and discontinue the practice of using the smell of marijuana as a pretext to search people.

The promised changes are part of a legal settlement between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which found in a report last year that the Minneapolis Police Department had routinely engaged in racially discriminatory practices and failed to punish officers for misconduct.

State and city officials called Friday’s agreement a milestone in the quest to change the culture of the police force that sparked a national reckoning over systemic racism in law enforcement after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020.

“I feel optimistic,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at a news conference on Friday. “The agreement isn’t change in and of itself, but it charts a clear road map.”

The accord is the first of what are expected to be two government-mandated plans for comprehensively overhauling policing in the city. The Justice Department is conducting a separate civil rights investigation that city officials expect to yield a consent decree.

The state investigation, started in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, painted a damning portrait of the Police Department.

Investigators found that Black people in Minneapolis were far more likely to be arrested, searched and stopped than white people. A review of more than 700 hours of body camera footage revealed that officers often used slurs to demean women and Black people, a practice so pervasive that it often imperiled prosecutions.

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a national reckoning over systemic racism in law enforcement.Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

Chief Brian O’Hara, who took the helm of the embattled police force in November, said that his department acknowledged the need for transformational change.

“We recognize that some terrible things have happened here in the past,” Chief O’Hara, a former senior law enforcement official and deputy mayor of Newark, told reporters on Friday. “We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the culture of policing in this town, as well as the narrative around policing and public safety, continues to change.”

Officials said the city’s agreement with the state included some provisions that the department had already adopted as policy, and others that were new.

Notable new requirements include a clear mandate that officers who witness colleagues committing abuses must intervene and report the misconduct. Another would prohibit officers from “using language to taunt or denigrate an individual, including using racist or otherwise derogatory language.” And the agreement precludes officers from relying on the smell of marijuana as a legal pretext to stop and search individuals.

Officers will also be barred from directing that people who are severely agitated be sedated. The tactic came under scrutiny after Mr. Floyd’s killing.

Rebecca Lucero, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, called the agreement “a powerful tool for change,” with strong enforcement mechanisms.

The state and city plan to submit the 144-page agreement to a state court that will be responsible for monitoring compliance. State and city officials will also appoint an independent team to evaluate how effectively the agreement is being carried out and issue regular public reports.

“This is different than anything the city has ever done to strengthen public safety,” Ms. Lucero said. “The city cannot walk away from this agreement; it is only the court that can and will end this agreement, after the city reaches full, effective and sustained compliance.”

State and city officials said they had consulted widely with police officers and city residents before drafting the agreement, which the Minneapolis City Council approved unanimously during a brief session on Friday morning.

It was hard to gauge the extent to which rank-and-file officers embraced the mandate for comprehensive change. The president of the Minneapolis police union did not respond to a request for an interview on Friday.

Chief O’Hara said that since the killing of Mr. Floyd, the Police Department had grappled with an exodus of officers and a flurry of new rules and oversight that has left officers confused and overwhelmed.

“Our cops have been through so much already,” he said in an interview. “I think what they’re looking for is support and direction on what we need to do going forward.”

Putting the new agreement into practice will require an extensive retraining of officers, as well as upgrades in information technology that city officials said would cost tens of millions of dollars.

A formidable challenge to transforming the city’s Police Department is the need to bolster its depleted ranks.

Before Mr. Floyd was killed, Minneapolis had roughly 910 sworn officers. Since then, a sharp rise in resignations and retirements has reduced the total to 593 officers as of early March, well below the 731 officers required by the City Charter.

Chief O’Hara said the city hoped to recruit a new generation of officers, but that it was struggling to attract recruits to a department with a tarnished reputation at a time when unemployment is low and the competition for talent is fierce.

“Policing in general has a problem with perception, but I think it’s nowhere more pronounced than in Minneapolis,” the chief said. “We need to fight against that as we reform.”

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney in Minneapolis, called Friday’s agreement a step in the right direction. But she said that profound change would take generations and require sustained commitment from all stakeholders.

“There is a long road ahead of us, because so much damage has been done over the years,” said Ms. Armstrong, who served as a co-chair of a working group that advised Mayor Frey on public safety. “There is a significant lack of trust between the public, primarily communities of color, and the city and the Minneapolis Police Department, and a consent decree itself is not going to repair that harm.”


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