Building Community Trust

images 1     In my recent testimony regarding proposed legislation in my state that would require outside review of police shootings I said:

     “A chief of police has two important and sometimes conflicting responsibilities — his or her own officers and members of the community. He or she must, on one hand, be the leader of the police  and, at the same time, the chief of and for the community. It is in the use of deadly force that these responsibilities come into conflict…”

To reconcile this conflict, I said that an independent outside investigation could help to build trust in a community that was experiencing the problem of police investigating themselves. (See my recent POST regarding legislation being proposed in Wisconsin.)

Chief Janeé Harteau of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has taken a bold step towards building trust with her community after a series of police misconduct cases that resulted in the city paying out over $20 million in settlements in recent years.

Instead of seeking a change in legislation, Chief Harteau simply made a policy decision. From now on, the most high-profile cases of possible officer misconduct will no longer be investigated internally. Instead, the state crime bureau, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA),  will take over the department’s most serious internal investigations.

Recently, there have been several high-profile cases of alleged officer misconduct in Minneapolis. Each misconduct case has the potential to erode the fabric of public trust — especially when the cases are investigated internally.

HarteauIn an internal memo sent last week, Harteau wrote that she has “full confidence” in her department’s investigators, but added, “Unfortunately, the general public does not share this view… I will not put involved officers and their families under unwarranted scrutiny simply because we choose to investigate our own.”

So now, the state will handle certain internal MPD investigations when an officer uses a firearm and a person is injured, when an officer uses force that causes death or great bodily harm, or when the chief deems it necessary. Harteau stated that the move will help the department, “continue to increase the public trust.”

An MPD spokesperson said the new policy officially took effect on Monday.

[To read the full story, CLICK HERE.]

Hold on… not quite yet. Now Minnesota Governor Dayton has stepped into the situation countermanding the BCA’s decision to help the MPD. Late Wednesday afternoon, Dayton’s office released the following statement: “The Minneapolis Chief of Police unilaterally announced this proposed arrangement without first notifying the Commissioner of Public Safety, Governor Dayton, or the Governor’s Chief of Staff – a course of action that the governor considers extremely inappropriate. Given this turn of events, and until all parties reach agreement on this matter, the arrangement announced by the Minneapolis Chief of Police is inoperative.”

Chief Harteau was “perplexed”by the governor’s reaction. She said that MPD and BCA officials have been meeting on this issue since the summer, and that both sides decided to finalize the arrangement and put it into effect at a joint meeting last Friday.

In the meantime, stay tuned. Is it politics, limited resources, or something else?

[To read this latest update, CLICK HERE]

p.s. Chief Chet Epperson of Rockford, Ill., tells me that Rockford has a County-Wide shooting investigation team and has now expanded into a two-county Integrity Task Force. They have had this since an officer-involved shooting in August of 2009. One more step toward accountability and is to be much preferred over internal investigations within one agency.