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Report: Mpls. cops stop thousands on 'suspicion' with little detail

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Suspicious vehicle
Minneapolis police Sgt. Jeff Carter stopped a suspicious vehicle Thursday night, Mar. 12, 2015 in north Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Minneapolis police officers rarely record details of their encounters with people they detain but ultimately don't arrest.

      That's the key finding of a civilian review board draft report that examined 385 "suspicious person" stops conducted by officers in 2014. In nearly 70 percent of those stops, officers provided no documentation of the interaction, other than noting how the call was resolved.    

  The draft (.pdf) released this week by the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, a unit of the Minneapolis civil rights department, could lead to changes in how police document stops of suspicious people.    

  Some communities of color have long complained race plays a role when Minneapolis police decide who to stop. Department statistics released earlier this year show higher arrest rates for African-Americans than other groups.  

  The commission study was launched after officials found a pattern of complaints based on encounters with officers that didn't include arrests, said Michael Browne, the director of the review board, which investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct.  

    "Those are the sort of attitude and conduct cases that we see that aren't typically going to go through a court system because there isn't any citation or arrest that's associated with it that would bring it into the judicial realm," he said.  

    The research is also important given the current national discussion about police, race and arrests for minor nonviolent crimes, Browne added.  

    The report found that 80 percent of people stopped were men. The average age of those stopped was 23 and stops typically happened between 11 p.m. and midnight and usually lasted five to 12 minutes.

  Officers made frequent suspicious person stops in high-crime areas. In multiple cases officers noted loitering as their initial cause for detaining someone. However, officers didn't base their suspicions on criteria established by department policy.  

    Officers also didn't record the race of the people they stopped in most cases. They noted racial identity in just 42 of the 385 stops examined, which Brown said is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions. Minneapolis police conducted some 28,000 "suspicious person" stops in 2014.

      Minneapolis police officials declined comment on the report until after it is presented to the commission next week. Chief Janeé Harteau has launched several efforts to improve police-community relations, including training officers on impartial policing and cultural awareness.

      Browne said the department has been very cooperative in providing data for the report.      

The commission, he said, may recommend the department require its officers to include race when documenting stops.     

  That's raised some concerns from law enforcement.  

    Nate Gove, executive director of the state Peace Officer Standards and Training board, said he's concerned some people will accuse officers of being racially biased based only on the race of people who are stopped.

      "I think it puts officers in a difficult position at times," he said. "The police department is not the Census Bureau."    

  Officers have to take in the totality of a situation before they decide to detain someone, added Gove, a former police officer.  

    The report lists around a dozen criteria Minneapolis officers are trained to consider, such as if someone is in a high-crime area, and if the person appears nervous or overly aggressive or keeps putting their hands in their pockets.    

  For instance, Gove says an officer would have a very good reason to stop and question someone standing behind a closed business late at night in an area where burglaries are known to occur.    

  Most people want officers to be proactive, he added.    

  "Otherwise it strictly puts the police in an absolutely reactive mode that I don't think serves public safety — to wait until the crime has actually been committed," he said.