New report highlights payouts for Minnesota police misconduct

A large group of people stand on a stage.
A new report released Wednesday says 71 Minnesota governments paid more than $60 million from 2010 to 2020 to settle incidents of officer misconduct, and that Minneapolis was responsible for 85 percent of that total.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2021

Updated: June 8, 9:25 a.m. | Posted: June 7, 11:16 a.m.

Editor’s note (June 8, 2023): The author of this report issued a statement Thursday correcting an error in the findings. Hamline University professor David Schultz now says those payouts totaled just over $60 million over a 10-year period — that’s $100 million less than initially reported. This story has been updated to reflect that correction.

Schultz said there was an error in the report's amount for the city of Minneapolis.

“I am not sure how the error happened but I take full responsibility for it and am taking corrective action to amend and correct the report,” he said in a statement Thursday.

A new report released Wednesday says 71 Minnesota governments paid more than $60 million from 2010 to 2020 to settle various incidents of police misconduct, with Minneapolis responsible for 85 percent of that total.

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That total doesn't include the $27 million settlement paid in 2021 by Minneapolis to the family of George Floyd, who was killed by police in May 2020.

David Schultz, one of the authors of the report, teaches political science at Hamline University in St. Paul. MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with him on Morning Edition.

The following is a transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full interview using the audio player above.

Why did you delve into the data behind the cases that have been settled?

First off, I do teach criminal justice classes, although I’m generally not sort of called on for that.

But what I was interested in is, after the George Floyd settlement, a lot of people were asking questions regarding or how much is being paid out how many cities have problems? What type of incidents lead to where cities pay out for misconduct? There is no nationwide database, there's no other state in the country that has a database that collects this, and Minnesota doesn't collect.

So I decided to do kind of a first draft and say, all right, let's see if we can come up with some approximate estimates regarding what we know in Minnesota. And my goal was, at the end of the day, to say that we probably need to generate and have some kind of mandated database statewide so we can collect this information.

So that was the whole purpose. If we're going to talk about reforming policing, if we're going to talk about any types of public policy, let's get some data, let's get some evidence that we know what's going on.

What were the most common claims? Do you have details on demographics, that kind of thing?

This is the issue that we don't have. Because what we did is we surveyed all counties, all the cities of 5,000 and more in Minnesota, plus the state police, U of M and Metro Transit. Asked them for information. We don't have that level of data.

One of the things that we'd love to know, for example, is race of person filing the complaint, or the gender or the nature of the types of other demographic stuff, we don't have that stuff. So for people who are looking to say, “OK, police misuse of authority is all about race.” We can't make that determination based upon what we have.

But what we do know, is some interesting things here. Among the most frequent issues, in terms of led to payouts for example, damage to property. Damage to property could be, you know, police chases that result in car crashes or other types of things. We do have excessive use of force that's high up there. We've got sort of a generic category of civil rights violations. And then we have data practices violations. And by that [we mean] police inappropriately, looking up personal information about people.

So it's a little bit all over the place in terms of what would be the possible reasons for … what we call police misconduct.

Overall, the report found that Minneapolis had about 177 incidents that resulted in payouts Bloomington had 126, St. Paul had 47. And then it goes down from there. The rest of the state had 115. Why do you think the bulk of the payouts came from Minneapolis?

Well, obviously first, it's the largest city in the state. But that also becomes a really good question here, in terms of even accounting for the fact that it's the large largest city in the state. That is exactly the question that we still need to figure out.

And the metaphor that I'm trying to use right now is, think about the fact that in the course of a year — not just in Minneapolis, but nationwide, or statewide — millions of interactions between police and civilians, the vast majority of them result in no incident. At some point, we go from let’s say even in Minneapolis, maybe tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of interactions, to eventually a small number that involve at payouts, etc, etc.

What I think we need to focus on is, what happened in those situations? What happened in the 495 statewide, or just in those in Minneapolis, and what's going on? And that becomes the basis I think for really doing reform. Figuring out why situations go wrong. But why Minneapolis has this pattern, you know, based upon the information that we have, again, I can't say that it's about training. I can't rule that out. I can't say it's about race or not. I mean, that really was sort of the theory I had going into doing this data collection is that my theory was that we would find out that there's a lot we still don't know. Which is why we need to have some type of mandated data collection at the state level to be able to give us a better picture.

Does Minneapolis agree with your data?

Not necessarily. When we did this checking several months ago, we did this three times we came up with the dollar amount. Minneapolis is disputing it. Now, I don't know whether or not I made a mistake, whether they made a mistake, whether or not there was a database problem at the time.

But we went to the database that we were instructed to go to to gather the information. And so if I've made a mistake, more than willing to acknowledge it. But I think that's part of the issue here is that gathering this information is difficult and not easy to obtain.

Again, coming back to the core argument that we need to come up with some uniform standards for how to report and what to report if we're going to have a serious debate regarding reforming policing, changing police tactics, or just addressing problems of when there are allegations of police misconduct.

What's the lesson here? Are the payouts becoming the cost of doing business? Should they be a spur to reform?

I think they'd become a cost of doing business. The whole theory, starting about 50 years ago regarding why we're going to hold municipalities or governments responsible for police behavior was the idea if they kept paying out, eventually cities would say, “We're tired of paying out, we're going to reform police.”

But as I found in this research, and in other research that I've done — for example, the city of New York pays out $100 million a year, every year for police misconduct. I think it's just become a cost of doing business. And so we may want to be rethinking the idea of saying that payouts or civil suits are the only way of reforming police or behavior. There may be other ways to think about it. And I think that's one of the lessons that at least I'm starting to come to through my research for the last couple of years.

The report and supporting data have not been peer reviewed, and we're self published. Will you go the route of having a peer reviewed study on this?

That's a possibility. Like I said, this initiative is not meant to be an academic study is not just a sort of be a report to put together. I would have no problem if we wanted to go through a peer review process in terms of doing that.