Packed room at first MPD community engagement session under court order

Community input on use-of-force policy

Community input on use-of-force policy

It’s been about a month since the City of Minneapolis entered into a court-enforceable agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The agreement follows a multi-year state investigation that found the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a “pattern and practice of race discrimination.”

Dozens of people packed into the public service building on Tuesday evening to weigh in on how they hope use of force policies are reformed moving forward.

“It’s important for everybody that we remain involved,” said Dave Bicking, a board member for Communities United Against Police Brutality.

It was the first of nine community engagement sessions required as MPD reforms its policies and practices under the court-enforceable agreement. According to department leadership, the feedback will be used to develop revised policies that will need to be approved by the Department of Human Rights and an independent monitor, which has not yet been selected.

Once the policy is approved, the department will develop and implement training on the new policies. According to Chief O’Hara, each sworn officer will receive 16 hours of training the first year, followed by eight hours of training each subsequent year.

“Right now there is a big divide between police and the community,” said Emanual Williams, who works for the nonprofit Legal Rights Center.

Williams participated in the breakout groups during which community members were asked their opinion on the most important components for MPD to consider when revising use of force policy. Responses ranged from those hoping to see officers use the least amount of force necessary, to ensuring use of force is accurately reported, to more clarity on the terms included in policy.

“They are measuring objective reasonableness,” said Williams. “No one really knows what objective reasonableness is, whether that’s the community member dealing with the police or the police officer.”

Williams also hopes to see cultural sensitivity training.

“Appropriate cultural sensitivity to deal with a young man that is Somali but also be able to deal with a community member that, let’s say, is a trans woman on the other side of the city,” Williams explained.

Department leaders told the public use of force policy has now been broken into three levels. At each level, the force must be reported.

Commander Yolanda Wilks, who will oversee implementation of the reforms, explained level one is designated for incidents that do not result in injury, such as an escort hold or a wrist lock. Level two requires a supervisor to respond to the scene and is designated for situations that result in injury, such as when a taser or baton is used. Wilks explained level three is designated for critical incidents, which also requires a supervisor to respond to the scene plus additional notification.

The Dept. of Human Rights investigation found MPD officers used higher rates of severe force against Black citizens than white citizens in similar circumstances.

One community member responded to the revised use of policy explanation with the question, “How do you train someone not to be racist?”

Chief O’Hara explained under the court-enforceable agreement, civilian investigators will review supervisory reports of how force is applied in the field. He also acknowledged systemic racism exists nationwide and promised the department will put processes in place “to ensure there’s not things we are doing as an agency that are exacerbating  those problems.”

Wilks will oversee a team of 25 people on the implementation team. 13 people have been hired onto the team so far.

“I am going to be reading every comment,” she said, in regard to public input. “We’re just hoping that if they can trust the process and continue with us on this journey, we’ll get to where we need to.”

MPD is required to conduct nine community engagement sessions within 60 days of entering the court-enforceable agreement, which occurred in mid-July.

“Humanity is important to me and seeing everybody come together, come into this space and to be able to share their ideas, bring all of themselves to a space and make community better, make the place we live in better, that’s a passion I have and I share that with the community,” said Wilks.

O’Hara told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he was encouraged by the turnout at the first session.

“I don’t feel as though the city or the police department has done an adequate job up until this point of providing a space for people’s voices to be heard and I think the wounds that are still had in this city both by our residents and by our police officers are still open,” he said. “I’m hopeful that at the end of this process, as it goes forward, there will be more people that have been frustrated with the police in the past, people who have been protesting Minneapolis police in the past, that will stand up and say I see change.”