The Minneapolis Police Department will withdraw from police union contract negotiations, Chief Medaria Arradondo said Wednesday, as he announced initial steps in what he said would be transformational reforms to the agency in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Faced with calls from activists and a majority of City Council members to dismantle or defund the department, Arradondo also said he would use a new system to identify problem officers and intervene if there are early warning signs of trouble.
“We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart,” he told reporters during a news conference more than two weeks after Floyd died after a white officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Activists have pointed to racial inequities and brutality, as well as a system that refuses to discipline problem officers. The officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, had 17 complaints against him and had been disciplined only once.
Arradondo said issued of racism need to be addressed head on and that a first step in making changes would be a thorough review of the union contract. He said it’s debilitating for a chief when an officer does something that calls for termination, but the union works to keep that person on the job, and on the street.
Advisers will look for ways to restructure the contract to provide more transparency and flexibility, he said. The review will look at critical incident protocols, use of force, and disciplinary protocols, including grievances and arbitration, among other things.
“This work must be transformational, but I must do it right,” Arradondo said.
The current police union contract expired on Dec. 31 but remains in effect until there is a new one, according to the city’s website.
Messages left with union President Bob Kroll were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey supported the chief’s decisions.
“Additional accountability between the people and the police needs to be matched with internal ability to closely monitor police behaviour and intervene early to prevent more tragedy,” Frey said in a statement.
Arradondo sidestepped a question about whether he thought Kroll, often seen as an obstacle to changes, should step down. He also didn’t directly answer a question about whether citizens should worry about a slowdown in police response time as a pushback against attempts to transform the department. Some City Council members have said in the past that their wards saw such slowdowns when they complained about police action.
Arradondo fired the four officers who were at the scene of the encounter with Floyd even before they were criminally charged. Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting the second-degree murder and manslaughter counts.
While a majority of City Council members called for dismantling the department, they provided no clear plan on how that would happen. Frey has said he would not support abolishing the department.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is prosecuting the four officers, told The Associated Press in an interview earlier Wednesday that he’s not calling for dismantling or defunding the department. But he said the people who are “should be listened to rather than dismissed.”
He said it was fair to question whether community groups that fight against gun violence should get more money, for example, and whether schools with officers should also have more nurses and counsellors.
“Nobody’s saying defund safety,” Ellison said. “What they’re doing is they’re challenging the 19th, 20th century model of how we deliver safety … how it’s not really working very well and coming up with alternatives.”
Frey and Arradondo’s predecessor, Janee Harteau, are among those who have complained that the police union is a roadblock to change. Frey told “Good Morning America” this week that the city has difficulty terminating and disciplining officers because of the union.
Bob Bennett, an attorney who said he has sued the department “hundreds” of times over police misconduct allegations, has said that the union has more sway over police conduct than chiefs do.
Arradondo, the city’s first African American police chief, joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 1989 as a patrol officer, working his way up to precinct inspector and head of the Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates officer misconduct allegations. Along the way, he and four other black officers successfully sued the department for discrimination in promotions, pay and discipline.
He was promoted to assistant chief in early 2017, then became chief later that year, after Harteau was fired for the way she handled the fatal police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian native who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.
Many hoped Arradondo could alter the culture of a department that critics said too frequently used excessive force and discriminated against people of colour. Arradondo made some quick changes, including toughening the department’s policy on use of body cameras. But critics have said more needs to be done.