Minneapolis police chief takes on union and promises change

The Minneapolis Police Department has said it will withdraw from police union contract negotiations.

Chief Medaria Arradondo also announced initial steps in what he said would be transformational reforms to the agency in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Faced with calls from activists and a majority of City Council members to dismantle or defund the department, Mr Arradondo also said he would use a new system to identify problem officers early and intervene.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Mr Arradondo promised ‘transformational’ reforms (AP/Jim Mone)</figcaption>
Mr Arradondo promised ‘transformational’ reforms (AP/Jim Mone)

“We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart,” he said at a news conference more than two weeks after Mr Floyd died after a white officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Activists have pointed to racial inequities and brutality, as well as a system that rarely disciplines problem officers. The officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, had 17 complaints against him and had been disciplined only once.

Mr Arradondo said reviewing the union contract is the first step towards change. He said it is debilitating for a chief when an officer does something that calls for termination, but the union works to keep that person on the job.

Advisers will look for ways to restructure the contract to provide more transparency and flexibility, he said. The review will look at critical incident protocols, use of force, and disciplinary protocols, including grievances and arbitration, among other things.

“This work must be transformational, but I must do it right,” Mr Arradondo said.

The union’s contract expired on December 31 but remains in effect until there is a new one, according to the city’s website. Talks began in October and eventually included a state mediator; the last discussion was in early March, when the coronavirus led to talks breaking off.

Mr Arradondo fired the four officers who were at the scene of the encounter with Mr Floyd the day after his death. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter, and the other three officers are charged with aiding and abetting.

Mr Arradondo’s predecessor, Janee Harteau, and mayor Jacob Frey are among those who have complained that the police union is an obstacle to change.

Mr Frey, who praised Mr Arradondo’s announcement, said this week that the city has difficulty terminating and disciplining officers because of the union.

Bob Bennett, a lawyer who has sued the department many times over police misconduct allegations, has said that the union has more sway over police conduct than chiefs do.

While a majority of City Council members called for dismantling the department, they provided no clear plan on how that would happen. Mr Frey has said he would not support abolishing the department.

Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, who is prosecuting the four officers, told The Associated Press that he is not calling for dismantling or defunding the department but that the people who are “should be listened to rather than dismissed”.

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