The murder of George Floyd

Mayors: Change Minnesota law, don't let fired cops return to work

Mayor Jacob Frey, right, and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo
Mayor Jacob Frey, right, and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo call on Minnesota lawmakers to overhaul the state's arbitration process for law enforcement officers at a news conference at Minneapolis City Hall on Thursday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 5:21 p.m.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other Twin Cities area mayors expressed frustration Thursday that under state law police officers disciplined or fired for unreasonable use of force and other “egregious” behaviors can be restored to the force by an arbitrator.

The push to change the law and keep those firing decisions exclusively in the hands of the city police chief comes in the wake of the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Four officers were immediately fired and now face charges. The head of the Minneapolis police union, however, says the officers didn’t receive due process in their firings, indicating in a letter that the union would fight to get them reinstated.

Frey said the current system has helped establish a culture of immunity that has hurt trust in his city’s police. It’s crucial that chiefs and mayors have the final say in firings for the worst kinds of police behavior, the mayor said.

“To get the the full structural change that we know we need in Minneapolis and in cities throughout our state, we must also be focusing on a shift of culture,” Frey said.

Cites would remain hamstrung if they’re unable to retain good officers and rid themselves of the worst ones.

"Right now, the entire world is watching us to see how we as Americans move forward in this moment, how we treat one another and what reforms we undertake that are going to be truly transformative," said Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott.

Elliott added that civilian oversight panels need “the authority to take action when necessary."

The League of Minnesota Cities as well as the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association support the law change. The mayor said that roughly half of police terminations in Minnesota are overturned by arbitrators when appealed.

Letting an arbitrator reduce discipline or overturn a firing erodes the public trust in the police, said Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

He mentioned unreasonable use of force, failing to intervene to stop another officer’s aberrant behavior and lying in an official statement as examples of egregious behavior that should be out of the hands of an arbitrator’s review

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo joins Mayor Jacob Frey and several other Minnesota mayors in calling on lawmakers to overhaul the state's arbitration process for law enforcement officers.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Since Floyd’s killing three weeks ago, Arradondo said he’s “committed to making a new MPD.”

“Part of that new MPD needs to be the disciplinary decisions I make as chief — they have to mean something,” the police chief said.

Officials suggested a bill already introduced by state Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, could be a way to make the changes they’re suggesting.

Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature remain at odds over the scope of a package to overhaul policing in the state. On this issue, there is support for the idea but the sides remain divided over how it should read.

For instance, state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he’d back legislation eliminating the state law that mandates binding arbitration for fired public employees and proposed a new process in which appeals would be adjudicated by an administrative law judge.

Democrats, though, want the change focused on police officers and not on all public employees. They’ve argued, for example, that teachers don't carry guns, so they shouldn't be viewed in same fashion.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association dismissed the mayors’ proposal, saying "workplace justice ... requires that all public employees, even police officers, have the opportunity to contest discipline before a neutral third-party.”

Changing the law simply for police, the group added, "does not address the core issue of improving trust and simply erodes worker protection and due process."

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