The City of Minneapolis and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis are negotiating a new contract for 2023 through 2025.
There are perhaps more eyes on the process than ever. A lawsuit settled last year requires the city to publish the time and place of negotiations, marking for the first time in Minneapolis history, that police contract negotiations are open to the public.
Monday afternoon, the group behind that lawsuit is presenting recommendations to a city council Committee. Stacey Gurian-Sherman is a lawyer on the steering committee of that group, Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract. She joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.
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With the last two contracts expiring in 2022, this is now the first contract to be negotiated since the murder of George Floyd. Later this afternoon, the group behind that lawsuit is presenting recommendations to a city council committee. Stacey Gurian-sherman is a lawyer on the steering committee of that group, Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract. She's on the line. Thanks for your time.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Thank you, Cathy. We appreciate you covering police accountability.
CATHY WURZER: People might think of a contract negotiation as a two-way deal between the city and the union, right? Why should the public be involved, at least in the same room?
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: That's a great question. When you think about a contract between a government entity and a public union, the beneficiary is the public. It's like a trust that is being held for the benefit of the public. So the public has, not only a right, but an obligation to know what is being done in their best interest. So that is why the public, not only should be involved, but under state law, the Public Employee Labor Relations Act, has a right to view and attend negotiations between the city and the Police Federation.
CATHY WURZER: I understand you have a list of 22 recommendations, including putting the mayor in charge of hiring and firing officers and creating a discipline matrix. Explain your thinking behind those recommendations.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Yeah, so of the 22 recommendations, we have four recommendations that would put the contract in a line with the city charter. They may seem to be administrative or lack strength, but we really need to have the mayor making decisions about training, about discipline, about when emergencies are called. That is what the city charter requires. And so what we are saying is administratively the city must push the Police Federation to make sure the contract comports with the city charter.
Last week was the first negotiation sessions, and the city put forth proposals, many of which were to update current language so that it comports with newly revised or newly enacted state statutes. So those are along the same lines.
CATHY WURZER: Stacey--
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: As for the discipline--
CATHY WURZER: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: I'm sorry.
CATHY WURZER: Explain the discipline because I have a follow-up question. Go ahead.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Sure, with the discipline matrix, that is the key for what officers can expect will happen if they violate the Minneapolis Police Department policy and procedure manual. It has to be definite. It has to have the same kind of guarantees for the same kind of punishment or accountability for each officer. It shouldn't be arbitrary. Obviously, it shouldn't be capricious or punitive. And a model discipline matrix does that. The current discipline matrix does not do that.
CATHY WURZER: Do you really think that the mayor should have his or her hands in this? This seems like something that the police chief, at the very least, should have say over between hiring and firing and creating a discipline matrix.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Well, I think that's a great question. The mayor can always call on the chief of police, just as he can call on the city clerk and the city attorney. But they don't make decisions. They provide advice. So yes, obviously, Chief O'Hara should be very much involved in any decision that the mayor makes. But the mayor must be able to make the decisions that comport with the city charter.
CATHY WURZER: The final recommendation, as reading through this, says the contract can't conflict with any federal or state consent decrees. There's the state consent decree, and we're working on the federal one. What conflicts are you concerned about, potentially?
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Well, we just don't want to see any language that's put in the contract that would conflict with the consent decrees. We hope that both sides are going into this with a genuine interest to make sure the contract is a vehicle for making sure the consent decrees are carried out effectively, efficiently, and smoothly. But all contracts should have these kind of provisos. We want to make sure, as a public entity, Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract, wants to make sure that there is no language put in that would conflict with the consent decrees.
CATHY WURZER: Are there places where your group expects to be more aligned with the police union at all?
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Yes, we do. I think that the police union came out with its priority, which was retention and hiring of staff. We are definitely in aligned with that. And we have proposals that we think will make it far more attractive to be a police officer. We also have a recommendation that's inspired actually by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which is the police union in LA, to remove a number of non-emergency calls from their police department. They cited low morale. They cited stubborn low staffing. They cited other problems that are also endemic in Minneapolis.
So we feel it's a time to realize the reforms and promises that were made, not only after the murder of George Floyd, but before. And it's now time to really consider community safety beyond policing and to use that stubborn low staffing as a way to take away tasks from MPD police officers that would be much better served by community organizations with their skills and experience and would leave police with a lot more ability to attend to the more serious challenges of policing.
CATHY WURZER: You mentioned the stubbornly low staffing. Star Tribune, as you know, reported over the weekend that the MPD has one of the lowest staffing levels relative to the city's population among major US cities. So you are comfortable with prioritizing hiring and retaining officers.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Yes, we are. And in fact, if you look at these recommendations as a whole, they're better for the city, and they're better for MPD. And I'll give you an example. We have two proposals that would put a cap on the number of hours per day that police officers can work and a cap on the number of consecutive days they can work.
We've cited studies and research to show that the longer you're on the job, the less effective you are. The less effective you are as a police officer, you could be reacting with anger or with fear or just not the same type of response that you've been trained to do. And so we want to make sure that officers are comfortable coming into MPD. We also want to make sure that non-emergency calls are handled by people who would be eager to do that but are not going to be police officers.
CATHY WURZER: I'm curious. How optimistic are you that some of these recommendations will actually make it into the negotiations and a final contract?
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: We're very optimistic. Four years ago, we started this process before George Floyd. The contracts started to be negotiated before George Floyd was murdered. It was put on hiatus for a little bit. Then we went into COVID. So there were a lot of very critical and traumatic things that were going on. But the contract was actually negotiated and decided on after George Floyd's murder.
So at the time that it came before the city council last March, there was only a two-page summary of the entire contract, which is over 100 pages. Council members expressed disappointment and frustration, asked for more time to review the contract themselves. You can't get a good framework on a 100-page contract with a two-page summary.
Five members of the council voted against the contract. And even members who voted for the contract were disappointed in the process and were disappointed in the outcome. Our last recommendations we went to every city council member. We're pledging to do that again and see what support we can get. We've been invited this afternoon to speak in front of the city council's policy and government oversight committee to give an overview of our recommendations. We feel the council is on our side, and we feel the Police Federation should be on our side. We want a strong contract that benefits the city and a strong contract that benefits MPD.
CATHY WURZER: All right, Stacey Gurian-sherman, thank you so much.
STACEY GURIAN-SHERMAN: Thank you, a pleasure to be here.
CATHY WURZER: Stacey Gurian-sherman is with the group Minneapolis for Better Police Contract. By the way, we reached out to the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation for comment, did not hear back before we went on the air.
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