Newscasts

PBS Daily Newscast - July 8, 2020 


Mary Trump's book labels our president a reckless leader who paid a pal to take his SAT test; Nevada lawmakers address pandemic shortfalls.

2020Talks - July 7, 2020 


Biden's climate change task force is making some progress; a federal judge orders the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down; and today sees elections in NJ and DE.

How Hard Is It to Change Police Culture? Ask Seattle

A working group in Minnesota, co-led by the state attorney general, recently issued a list of recommendations to reduce deadly police encounters. However, those involved say the state's need to respond to COVID-19 has prevented any legislative follow-up so far. (Adobe Stock)
A working group in Minnesota, co-led by the state attorney general, recently issued a list of recommendations to reduce deadly police encounters. However, those involved say the state's need to respond to COVID-19 has prevented any legislative follow-up so far. (Adobe Stock)
June 3, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota officials have launched a civil-rights investigation into the entire Minneapolis Police Department following the killing of George Floyd. It coincides with calls for reform, but watchdogs elsewhere say changing police culture is very difficult.

Other recent high-profile incidents have prompted reforms within MPD, but skeptics say what happened to Floyd shows not much has changed.

The Rev. Harriett Walden, founder of Mothers for Police Accountability in Seattle, was involved in reform efforts when that city's police department came under federal scrutiny. There was a lot of optimism at first, she said, but the problems persist.

"The Seattle police enforcement still had disparities along racial lines; that was 2019," she said. "People of color were more likely to be frisked than white people, and more likely to have weapons put in their face, even though those people didn't have weapons on them."

Walden was referring to the Seattle department's own disparity review from last year. She said broader discussions about the nation's history of discrimination need to find a platform within police agencies.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's human-rights commissioner has vowed that the investigation will lead to meaningful action, not just a report.

Also at the state level, a task force led by Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison in February issued a non-binding report containing 28 recommendations on reducing deadly force by police. Observers say the Legislature's need to respond to COVID-19 shifted the spotlight away from the findings, but some are hopeful it will get strong consideration in the future.

Union influence

Walden said she thinks negotiations with police unions have played a role in slowing reform efforts across the country, and that leaders at city hall need to be held accountable as well.

"The city's job is to get the best thing for the city, and to hold the line," she said, "and in my opinion, sometimes the cities don't always do that."

In Minneapolis, the city's powerful police union leader, Bob Kroll, has been criticized for fostering cultural issues within the rank-and-file. In response to the George Floyd aftermath, Kroll issued a letter to union members blasting city and police leadership over the protests and blaming the violence on a "terrorist movement."

Citizen oversight

Sam Sanchez is an organizer with the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, which was founded in response to the 2015 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. The group is calling for an even more dramatic overhaul of the department by amending the city charter to have a community panel run the force.

"These would be elected officials from the community that would be in charge of all aspects of the police department," he said, "up to picking the chief, to the budget, to the rule book."

Sanchez said this would remove conflicts of interest by no longer having officers hold their own colleagues accountable. But he acknowledges it would be tough to get any backing from the City Council and leadership at City Hall.

The Seattle Police Department report is online at crosscut.com. The Minnesota human-rights announcement is at survey.mn.gov.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN