Funding for key Minneapolis police initiative falls through

Funding for a key Minneapolis Police Department accountability initiative after the death of George Floyd has fallen through, officials confirmed Thursday, meaning potential delays as the city scrambles to find another source for the money.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced June 10 the department would contract with Benchmark Analytics, a Chicago company, to use its data-driven system to identify problematic behavior by officers so supervisors could take corrective action. Developed by the University of Chicago, it’s more advanced than similar systems used by many other departments across the country, as well as a system that Minneapolis tried in 2009 that never really got off the ground.

The nonprofit Minneapolis Foundation was to fund the project for the first year, but CEO R.T. Rybak — a founding member of the Benchmark Analytics board and a former Minneapolis mayor — confirmed Thursday that the foundation has dropped its involvement.

Rybak, who left the Benchmark board last December, said the foundation got involved because Arradondo wanted to move quickly. But he said they backed away "when there began to be some drama around Benchmark." He said the foundation wanted to avoid any harm to its broader work against racial injustice and in support of criminal justice reform, which predates Floyd’s death.

Some activists had sharply criticized Rybak. Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong and Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality accused him at a news conference this week of failing to stop police brutality when he was mayor from 2002-2013. Armstrong, Gross and other activists — most of whom support the so-called dismantling of the department — said they didn’t trust him or the foundation on police accountability issues.

Gross denounced Rybak and the foundation as "a washed up former mayor who never did a damn thing about police accountability and a rich foundation who has no expertise and no credibility on this question." She called his former membership on the company’s board "pretty cozy" and expressed skepticism that the project would ever get off the ground, given that previous efforts had failed. She also questioned why the city wasn’t putting the work out for bids.

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"It’s important not to have any distractions because our role has been and is now more important than ever," Rybak said.

Police spokesman John Elder said the department is trying to find alternative funding. He referred questions about where the money might come from to Mayor Jacob Frey, who said the city prefers "external partners" and said "I believe that we will get there."

Frey said if the city doesn’t find other funders, it will see if the program can be done with existing money.

It’s not clear how much money the city needs. Benchmark Analytics CEO Ron Huberman said his company does not publicly discuss what it charges.

Nashville’s department, about 1 1/2 times the size of the Minneapolis department, signed a five-year deal with Benchmark in 2018 worth around $455,000.

Huberman said the system combines a department’s own data with analytical technology developed by University of Chicago researchers to flag officers who might need coaching, training or other interventions before discipline is warranted. It usually takes three to nine months to implement, he said, and would likely be closer to nine months in Minneapolis due to the size of the department.

Huberman said he didn’t have enough information on the officer charged with killing Floyd, Derek Chauvin, to know if the system would have flagged him.

‘Rarely does an officer engage in one super-problematic event," Huberman said in an interview. "You almost never see that. When officers are engaged in problematic conduct, it is almost always a pattern of problematic conduct that occurs. Because of that, it becomes a very predictable thing."

The Minneapolis Foundation released the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Thursday:

The Minneapolis Foundation stands with the many strong voices demanding change in how our community approaches public safety, and greater accountability from police. We will continue our years-long work to eradicate the profound and unacceptable racial injustices embedded in our community, and specifically our efforts to support criminal justice reform.

In the past few weeks, The Minneapolis Foundation has had several conversations with the City of Minneapolis about the City’s potential acquisition of technology developed by Benchmark Analytics as one of many tools and strategies that local leaders are considering to increase police accountability. The Foundation agreed to explore ways to help the City cover the cost of this technology for one year, potentially through a grant to the City. The Foundation has determined that it will not pursue this specific investment, but we will continue to look for ways to move forward in partnership with community and take concrete steps toward reform.

The Minneapolis Foundation has no contract with the City, nor has it conveyed any funds to the City, to acquire this tool. Our President and CEO, R.T. Rybak, served on the board of Benchmark from April 2017 to December 2019, but neither he nor The Minneapolis Foundation currently has a formal relationship with Benchmark.

The Foundation continues to believe that police should be held accountable for misconduct when it occurs, and that police departments should intervene long before that misconduct has fatal consequences.

As The Minneapolis Foundation continues to seek and pursue opportunities to contribute to the critical work of criminal justice reform, we will continue to listen to our partners across the community, especially those most impacted by racial injustice. We know that we are just one partner in this work; achieving these goals will require the engagement of everyone in our community. We will continue to serve as a convener and connector for individuals and organizations that want to improve the future for all Minneapolitans.