Some fear cop lawsuit will hinder diversity goals

Traffic stop
A traffic stop in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The cramped south Minneapolis headquarters of MAD DADS is buzzing with activity on a recent afternoon.

The head of the group, VJ Smith, is preparing to lead a team of about a dozen men and one woman to ride city buses along Lake Street. MAD DADS is a Christian outreach group whose volunteers go out on the streets and ride city buses in an attempt help steer African Americans away from drugs, violence and crime.

Smith is also a member of a recruitment advisory group to the Minneapolis Police Department.

"It makes it hard for us to recruit African American, Latino and Native American officers from the high schools and the colleges when we have a situation like this," says Smith.

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Mad Dads
Members of the neighborhood watch group Mad Dads pray together before going out to do their street outreach.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Smith says its important that young African Americans see the police force as a viable career option.

"And it just doesn't look good. We have to decide - how do we make it sound attractive to our young people to want to be police officers."

Sandy Neely is one of the young guys Smith is referring to. Neely is a volunteer with MAD DADS, a college student and an intern at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. Neely says he's not discouraged from being a police officer because of the Minneapolis lawsuit. But he says there's a need for more black officers in the city. Especially those who patrol areas with a lot of young African Americans.

"A black officer will probably know what the youth are going through - like the pain they're going through, the little gestures or the movement's they're doing," says Neely.

Neely grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Chicago. By the time he was nine he knew what prostitution was and had seen someone get shot, he says. It's an experience most white police officers don't have, Neely says.

"The white officer might not understand the way that the young black man is expressing himself. He may take that as hostile activity or hostile behavior."

Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn is an ex-cop from the Minneapolis Police Department and an author.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The cops who filed the lawsuit claim they were targets of hostility on the part of white officers. For example, the complaint alleges that in 1992 black officers received a hate letter signed 'KKK' through the interoffice mail. And they claim that under police chief Tim Dolan the atmosphere has gotten more hostile.

"When I first started it wasn't uncommon to hear cops use racial epithets on the street," says Mike Quinn, who recently retired after 23 years as Minneapolis police officer.

Quinn is the author of a book about his experiences called "Walking With the Devil - What Bad Cops Don't Want You to Know and Good Cops Won't Tell You." Quinn, who is white, says racism and cronyism are partially responsible for why more officers of color aren't in leadership positions on the force.

Quinn doesn't think chief Dolan is a racist. But he says the chief has to do more to diversify the upper ranks of the department.

"With the large black community we have in Minneapolis, to not have somebody in that command staff that's connected to this community and is black, is a problem," says Quinn. "You need that connection. And you've got plenty of qualified candidates here."

Dolan's predecessor, William McManus appointed two African Americans to deputy chief positions. When Dolan took over, he demoted one of them. That officer is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Minneapolis police officials aren't talking about the lawsuit, but earlier this week they released details of the department's diversity plan. The force is more racially diverse than it's ever been, they say. Eighteen percent of the 851 sworn officers are people of color. Seven percent are African American. And Dolan says 31 percent of the department's lieutenants are people of color. He says they're in position to become the next precinct commanders and deputy chiefs.

"There's 45 lieutenants down there...some very talented individuals," says Dolan. "So the future looks good as far as having good candidates to fill those roles as they open."

But community activists, including some who are members of the Police Community Relations Council, are not as confident about the future of diversity for the department. They are calling for the MPD to be placed into federal receivership.