MPD chief steps away from union negotiations, seeks more power to fire problematic officers

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In announcing his decision to step away from the negotiation table with the police union on Wednesday, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo took the latest, and possibly boldest step, in a growing movement to give police chiefs in Minnesota more autonomy over who is on their police force.

Arradondo told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that building a new contract with the Minneapolis Police Federation was one of several reforms needed at the police department in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“Beginning today, as chief, I am immediately withdrawing from contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Police Federation,” Arradondo told reporters.

Under its collective bargaining agreement, the police federation fights for its members— the officers— to, for example, reduce discipline and overturn firings through the state’s arbitration system.

“There is nothing more debilitating to a chief from an employment matter perspective than when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you're dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee to not only be back on the department, but to be patrolling in your communities,” Arradondo said.

'We need a new compact between the people of Minneapolis and the people trusted to protect and serve': Minneapolis police chief announces reforms

State arbitration data, analyzed by 5 INVESTIGATES, shows that the police union has been largely successful in keeping fired officers on the job.

Since 2006, nine Minneapolis police officers challenged their terminations in arbitration, and with the backing of the union, seven of them won their jobs back.

That includes officers fired for excessive use of force, domestic assault and being untruthful.

Last year, 5 INVESTIGATES found that nearly half of all fired law enforcement officials in Minnesota who went to arbitration in the last decade were successful in reducing their discipline to suspensions or reprimands.

Arradondo is not the first to suggest a way to make terminations actually stick.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association has been arguing in state court and at the state legislature in recent years that officers should not be allowed to fight their terminations if it was determined they lied or engaged in other unethical conduct.

In a statement on Wednesday, Executive Director Andy Skoogman described the organization as a strong advocate for key reform measures.

"Following the brutal death of George Floyd that horrified, saddened and appalled our members, we are committed to working with lawmakers, community groups and stakeholders to reform policing practices," Skoogman said. "We must make real changes to ensure that officers receive the training necessary to prevent biased policing and inappropriate use of force and are held accountable when they happen."

Among the calls for change that Arradondo called for Wednesday — and one that the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association supports — is doing a better job at rooting out problematic officers by picking up on the warning signs.

5 INVESTIGATES found that, in 2015, the Department of Justice warned MPD about its faulty system of flagging bad cops.

At that time, the DOJ’s review called for an overhaul of what is known as the Early Intervention System (EIS). It tracks and automatically alerts supervisors when officers rack up too many complaints, discipline and other troubling incidents.

In an interview with KSTP in 2015, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the police federation, defended a now-former officer who was investigated 25 times by internal affairs.

“To me, it means a lot. It means he’s an aggressive, hard-working cop,” Kroll said in 2015. “That many investigations, cleared on that many, it's a guy that’s out there really working hard.”

Kroll, who has been under mounting criticism for years, is now being called on by community activists, other public unions and city leaders, to step down.

On Wednesday, Arradondo was directly asked whether he would like Kroll to resign.

“I believe he knows from my position that these are very serious conversations and there are going to have to be some decisions made moving forward,” Arradondo said.

The Police Federation's full statement, sent out by Kroll Wednesday night, is below:

In September, 2019, the negotiation teams of the Federation and the city sat down to begin bargaining for the successor to the labor agreement set to expire in December of that year. In December, the Federation exercised its right under Minnesota labor law to request the assistance of a mediator assigned by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services. The parties have been in mediation since January 2020.

Today, without prior notification to the Federation or the Mediator, Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo with Mayor Frey at his side, held a press conference and stated that “I as chief need to step away from the table.” Mayor Frey stated “there are valid reasons for a party to step away from bargaining.” These statements send conflicting messages as to whether it is the Chief or the entire city team that intends to withdraw from mediation.

Minnesota statutes mandate that a public employer “meet and negotiate in good faith” with a labor union representing its employees. Pursuant to its rules, the City’s Executive Committee (an entity established by Minneapolis City Charter to consist of the Mayor, City Council President and three additional members of the City Council), not the Mayor or the Police Chief, “directs labor negotiations of the city.” Moreover, at the commencement of bargaining in September, 2019, the negotiation teams of the city and the Federation entered into a process agreement which identified the Chief as an essential member of the city’s team. The Federation sincerely hopes that by their announcement today, the Police Chief and Mayor were not stating an intent to violate state law, the city charter and the city’s process agreement with the Federation.

The public should know that, contrary to the popular and false narrative, the Federation has always welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the City’s Police Administration and Labor Relations staff to set clear expectations, train employees as to those expectations, and improve accountability for both officers and supervisors who fail to conduct themselves accordingly. There are numerous examples, even in recent years, as to ways in the which the Federation has done so. To those who claim otherwise, we call on you state a specific example. Despite the Federation’s efforts to assist in bringing about meaningful changes, it recognizes that rarely have these efforts been successful. However, this is not because of the Federation or the terms of the labor agreement, but rather because management has failed to implement the changes the parties agreed to make.

Now, the Federation acknowledges that, as a result of the senseless death of Mr. Floyd, the public rightfully expects that talk is not enough and changes must actually be made. Change needs to be made for many reasons but primarily to prevent another horrific event such as this or even less egregious types of misconduct. However, the law and common sense both require that these changes result from a collaborative effort between the Administration and the Federation.

As it always has, the Federation remains ready, willing and able to do this difficult work. We are concerned that today the Police Chief and Mayor may have been saying that they are not. Rather than withdraw from the necessary dialogue, the Federation calls on the Chief and the Mayor to:

  • Return to mediation and negotiate in good faith;
  • Stop repeating the false narrative that the Federation or the labor agreement is an impediment to change;
  • Acknowledge that, upon the conclusion of an investigation of a misconduct allegation, the disciplinary process and the due process right to appeal to a neutral arbitrator are no different for a Minneapolis police officer than for any other city employee or any of the other 400,000 public employees in the state of Minnesota; and
  • Resist the urge to pander to those demanding the irrational and instead give the community and its police officers the leadership they deserve by being an agent of change and facilitating the serious and important conversations which must occur among all stakeholders, so that the MPD can once again be an organization in which people are proud to serve and from which the community is proud to be served.