Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

The state of policing four years since George Floyd’s murder

“I Can’t Breathe” Silent March for Justice
A protester holds a sign calling for justice for George Floyd as demonstrators march during the “I Can’t Breathe” Silent March for Justice in downtown Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News | 2021

In the week leading up the the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder on May 25, Minnesota Now examined DEI efforts, activism and the state of Lake Street, which saw a number of buildings burn during riots.

This segment covers the state of policing four years after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd’s neck on a city street captured on video.

His murder set off peaceful demonstrations and violent confrontations locally and across the country. Protestors called for changes to policing. That change has been slow, as expected.

We are still seeing reform efforts develop and play out today. MPR News senior reporter Jon Collins joined Minnesota Now to talk about what has changed in policing since Floyd’s killing shook the world.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: If you've been listening to Minnesota Now this week, every day we've been looking at different impacts that George Floyd's police murder had on Minnesotans. We've looked at DEI efforts, activism, and the state of Lake Street, which saw a number of buildings burn during riots. We're ending today on policing.

When a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd's neck on a city street, it was captured on video. His murder set off peaceful demonstrations and violent confrontations locally and across the country. Protesters called for changes to policing. That change has been slow, as expected, and we are still seeing reform efforts develop and play out today.

MPR News Jon Collins joins us now from Minneapolis to talk about what has changed in policing since George Floyd's killing shook the world. Thanks for joining us, Jon.

JON COLLINS: Thanks for having me, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: So to remind folks, there were four officers involved in George Floyd's murder. Where are they now?

JON COLLINS: Well, they're all in prison. That's Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng. They all either pleaded guilty or were convicted for both state and federal charges. And it's important to remember that these prosecutions took a really long time. It stretched out a while. Thao was just convicted a year ago.

And Chauvin, who murdered Floyd, is serving the longest sentence. That's more than 20 years. And he was attacked by another inmate in prison, seriously injured. And the last we heard, he was released from medical care.

But it's important to remember these cases are really significant. Charges against police officers for using lethal force across the country are pretty rare. And convictions in those cases are even rarer. So these convictions were really a big win for prosecutors, as well as members of the public who really pushed for these former officers to be charged in Floyd's killing. And it does look like it's been a while. The first of those former officers will complete their prison sentence and be on supervised release starting this August.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, really? This August, wow. As you know, Minneapolis also faced a number of legal challenges related to George Floyd's killing and the police response to the protests. So in general, given everything, what do those settlements cost Minneapolis taxpayers?

JON COLLINS: You know, Minneapolis taxpayers are paying a lot into this. The city paid out a record $27 million to Floyd's family in a civil suit. They also paid out about $10 million to people who were partially blinded by less-lethal police weapons, you know, rubber bullets, to a man who was brutalized by officers during the unrest and to community activists who were wrongly arrested, among many other cases.

And then the city and state also paid out a million dollars each to groups of journalists who were arrested or injured by law enforcement. I should note that no MPR News staff were parties to that particular lawsuit. And then even earlier this week, another lawsuit was filed against Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck, and his partner and the city of Minneapolis. And this lawsuit alleges that Chauvin used excessive force against a woman a few months before he killed Floyd.

And the woman who filed the suit is seeking at least $9 million. She said that Chauvin kneeled on her back in a similar way to what he did to George Floyd. And we should note Minneapolis is self-insured. So these legal settlements are certainly taking a toll on the budget at a time when the city is already anticipating a big budget gap of more than $20 million next year. And you got to remember that's in addition to all the other costs that are associated with these city efforts to transform the police department.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Let's talk about that because I think people can get a little confused about what is going on. So the MPD was investigated by both the US Department of Justice and the State Department of Human Rights. So where are we with those investigations?

JON COLLINS: So both the investigations are done. And the city of Minneapolis has agreed to a court-enforced agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. And it requires the city to make all sorts of changes to policing practices and policies. It's notable that right away, the Department of Human Rights got a court order that forces the city to make a bunch of big changes, including banning things like chokeholds and neck restraints, requiring officers to intervene with a colleague who was doing something-- if they're doing something illegal, limiting the police use of crowd control weapons, and auditing of body camera footage.

And I spoke just yesterday to the Department of Human Rights commissioner, Rebecca Lucero. And she says the city has made progress setting up the foundation for this really fundamental, systematic change. But she said there's a long way to go still.

REBECCA LUCERO: There's so much hunger from the community members to see really big, substantive changes and to get big, substantive-- there's this urgency around that because we know lives are at stake here. And to get there, it takes a lot of really important small steps.

JON COLLINS: And the city and state have already chosen the team that's going to monitor that implementation of a state agreement. And then you have the separate federal consent decree, which has not yet been negotiated, but that is expected as well very soon. And the state and federal agreements are both going to be administered by one judge.

And this is the one time that an American city is under both a state and federal consent decree. So we expect to learn quite a bit about that. And we also know that cities-- under consent decrees, it takes many, many years for them to have those decrees lifted. So we can really expect that Minneapolis can be dealing with these agreements for quite a while yet.

CATHY WURZER: Right. But there have been some changes made as part of the consent decree process, right?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, for sure. Some of the big things the city has already done are they restructured the entire public safety system in the city to add a new Office of Community Safety.

They've created a whole department that's dedicated to implementing the state-enforced court agreement and to making sure that we have constitutional policing in the city of Minneapolis. And just recently, they also announced plans to create what they call an early intervention system that will track data to-- it will use data to track police officers who might be showing signs of having trouble at work before it escalates into a terrible or high-profile incident.

Another point has been the expansion of the city's crisis intervention teams. They're mental health workers who-- people can call 911, and these teams can come out, help people who are in crisis, help someone who maybe doesn't have housing. They're in danger of being injured or dying from the weather. And overall, that crisis intervention team has been pretty successful in that neither the people they're called for nor the crisis intervention workers have been injured.

And then there's also community groups that work as violence interrupters. So it takes a while. There's a lot going on. And it's clear Minneapolis has been investing a lot of time and energy into creating more public safety resources that don't require armed police.

CATHY WURZER: How is the MPD doing since all this happened in 2020?

JON COLLINS: One challenge that they have had and they've been working on is staffing. Dozens of officers left the city, claiming duty disability for PTSD, which has also cost the city many millions of dollars. And then the city has struggled to hire new recruits at this time, which is a nationwide problem. But the end result is the number of officers in the city of Minneapolis is way down from before Floyd's killing.

So the city has recently launched a flashy new recruitment campaign. Officials say they want to attract more young, diverse candidates who also live in or have roots in the city in Minneapolis. And Chief Brian O'Hara said they're turning the corner on staffing, but they aren't there yet.

And then civilian oversight of policing has been another sore point. The new civilian oversight organization-- it's called the Community Commission on Police Oversight-- has not done much yet to recommend policing policies or to get through a pretty big backlog of complaints against officers. And that's something the city needs to resolve in order to meet the requirements of the state consent decree.

I should note activists did try to get a charter amendment on the ballot that would have created a whole new civilian oversight structure that actually had teeth. But the city clerk's office found that the group who started the petition did not have enough valid signatures. So that's not going to go forward this election year.

CATHY WURZER: Yesterday on the program, we talked about the damage done along Lake Street, that corridor, because of some of the riots. Also damaged was the MPD's third precinct building right on Minnehaha and Lake Street. What are the plans for that space? Is that still up in the air?

JON COLLINS: Yeah, that precinct has been empty and surrounded by barbed wire since police abandoned it shortly after Floyd's killing in 2020. And the plans for it are up in the air. The mayor's office and city staff want to move the city's voter services into that building. It's accessible. It's near transit. And they envision much of the rest of the building being used for some sort of community space. What sort? We're not exactly sure yet.

But the city council is slightly skeptical of that plan. They want more details. And they want more public engagement. So that is still in progress. And we'll be watching how that goes.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Thank you so very much for the update. We appreciate it, Jon.

JON COLLINS: Thank you. That is MPR News senior reporter Jon Collins. By the way, we will be covering several events being held this weekend to remember George Floyd. You can find coverage on air and online at mprnews.org.

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