Slow but 'fruitful' negotiations continue in state consent decree of MPD

A man in a suit speaks at a microphone
Brian O’Hara speaks at the Minneapolis City Hall before swearing in as the city's next police chief in Oct. 2022.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News 2022

Officials with the city of Minneapolis say they’re making progress in negotiations with the state that could lead to a consent decree governing the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies and practices.  

A report last April by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that Minneapolis police had engaged in discrimination by race, and that there was little accountability for officer misconduct. It was the product of a state investigation started just days after George Floyd’s killing in May 2020. 

The state report found racial disparities in how Minneapolis police officers stopped, searched, arrested and cited Black residents. Investigators also found consistent use of racist, misogynist and other disrespectful language by officers and covert surveillance of Black activists and groups. 

The report found the culture of discrimination was caused by a lack of training, especially regarding when officers should use force. It also concluded that systems to hold officers accountable for misconduct were not sufficient. 

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After a rocky start, with city officials denying some of the state’s findings, negotiations resumed last summer, with a two-page memorandum between the parties that committed to a deal that could be enforced by the courts. 

City Attorney Kristyn Anderson said Minneapolis attorneys have met for mostly full-day negotiations at least 27 times. She said the city can’t release details about the contents of those negotiations because they’re legally confidential. A slide in her presentation during a city council meeting on Tuesday described the negotiations as “fruitful.”

In their earlier agreement to proceed with negotiations, the city and state said they’ll focus on training, use of force, traffic enforcement, police culture and officer wellness, as well as other topics. 

Any deal reached by the city and state would need to be ratified by the mayor, city council and commissioner of the department of human rights. Anderson said it will then be filed in court. Typically, a monitor oversees implementation of the consent decree and ensures it’s enforced by the courts. 

Anderson said it’s not clear exactly how the state process will work, but that the public could get a chance to engage and learn about the deal after it’s approved.  

“What I can say is that it is very typical for federal pattern and practice consent decrees, that there is a monitor, and the monitor has significant public engagement, [which] includes listening sessions, public websites reflecting progress and terms of the consent degree,” Anderson said. “Again, I can't speak to what ours might look like, but that would be a typical term you'd see in federal consent decrees.”

The mood at the council seemed optimistic Tuesday, with council members thanking staff for their work on the negotiations. Council Member Robin Wonsley said there’s still significant public interest in the outcome of the negotiations. 

“A successful consent decree means we're getting MPD back into compliance with constitutional laws, basically free from discrimination, and essentially ceasing this pattern of violating human rights,” Wonsley said. “That is the baseline of this whole process.”

The city of Minneapolis is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which could lead to another consent decree. If the eventual state decree contradicts anything in the federal consent decree, the state and city have agreed to change their agreement.