Time to Talk

A couple months ago, when @nettaaaaaaaa@samswey, and @deray launched their national collection of police contracts called Check the Police, I started looking at the contract between Minneapolis and its Police Officers' Federation (pdf).  One of the first things I noticed was that the contract was effective for the period of January 2012-December 2014, meaning that a new contract must be forthcoming.

I started doing some casual amateur researching and realized I couldn't find anyone talking about this.  Nothing on negotiations or even anticipating upcoming talks.  But last week, I finally made some progress.  I reached out to a staff member in my City Council Member's office, who spoke to someone in Chief Harteau's office, who confirmed that the Police Department is currently operating under the old contract and that they are "just starting new contract negotiations."  Those negotiations are not public, and the plan is to post the new contract after it is finalized.

So the headline is that if there are things members of the public think are important to be addressed in the new contract, the time to advocate for those things is now.  Like, right now.

My understanding is that it is common practice for contract negotiations like these not to be public, so I'm not particularly surprised this is happening.  And I don't think there's any grand conspiracy to hoodwink the public (beyond the longstanding conspiracy of White Supremacy generally).  But I do think the Mayor, the Chief, the Council, and the Federation would all be perfectly happy to quietly get a contract signed without much attention.  We should not let that happen.

This is a contract between the City of Minneapolis (e.g. all of us who live here) and members of the police force empowered with state-sanctioned authority to exert physical and deadly force against our physical beings.  “We’re in talks and we’ll let you know when we’re done” doesn’t seem sufficient, particularly in a city in which policing is implemented in such racially violent and oppressive ways (click through to that ACLU report on Minneapolis if you haven't read it already).

I am not an expert in police policy, nor am I a person of color being disproportionately impacted by policing.  It is not my role to prescribe exactly what should or should not be in the new contract.  But I am a citizen very concerned with the oppression of people of color by our police force, and it is clear to that we need dramatic change.

Fortunately, there are many incredible people out there who are advocating for specific changes who we can look to.  

@deray and @samswey have created a website with a list of categories to consider in advocating for a more just police force, ranging from racial profiling, to demilitarizing the police, to external investigations of police misconduct.  

Black Liberation Project, a local group of young activists of color, has plans for advocacy this month and has a specific list of demands about policing in Minneapolis:

Here are the demands the we will be doing direct action around from here on out. Stay tuned to see what we are doing during our August of Action(#AoA15).We ready, We coming!

Posted by Black Liberation Project on Saturday, August 1, 2015

I reached out to the Minneapolis NAACP about this issue, and got a statement from Jason Sole, the Chair of their Criminal Justice Reform Committee: 

In light of the many concerns that have been raised about police/community relations in Minneapolis, it’s important that the City ensure greater levels of transparency and accountability in how MPD operates. The black community is tired of feeling under siege and being subjected to disproportionate rates of low level arrests and abuse. We also need stronger civilian oversight and the removal of police officers from the Civilian Review Oversight Commission
— Jason Sole, Minneapolis NAACP

There are clearly significant concerns from the public about policing in Minneapolis.  These concerns need to be a part of the negotiations for a new contract, and continued conversations about dismantling oppression in our police force and our community at large. 

There currently is no meaningful civilian oversight of the police in Minneapolis.  According to city ordinance, there is both an Office of Police Conduct Review and a Police Conduct Oversight Commission.  But here’s the thing: neither of them have any power.  They can do research, write reports, and make recommendations.  But their recommendations have no more official force than this blog post.

As to where advocacy should be directed, the city charter is very clear as to who has authority over the police department:

The Mayor has complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the police department. The Mayor may make all rules and regulations and may promulgate and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department. Except where the law vests an appointment in the department itself, the Mayor appoints and may discipline or discharge any employee in the department (subject to the Civil Service Commission’s rules, in the case of an employee in the classified service).
— Minneapolis City Charter

So, as I understand it, the Mayor has authority over the police department.  She appoints a Chief of Police, who negotiates a contract on her behalf with the Officers' Federation.  So while all elected officials should be involved in conversations about policing, advocacy should be specifically targeted at Mayor Hodges and Chief Harteau.

The preface to the MPD Policy and Procedure Manual provides a compelling call to action:

Minneapolis Police Officers are not separate from the citizens of Minneapolis. We draw our authority from the will and consent of the people. The police are the instrument of the people to achieve and maintain order. Our efforts are founded on the principles of public service and ultimate responsibility to the public.

The specific goals and priorities which we establish within the limits of our legislatively granted authority are determined to a large extent by community desires. These desires are transmitted to us through the community and the governing body of the City of Minneapolis. We conscientiously strive to be responsive to these desires, knowing full well that we exist not to serve ourselves but to serve and protect others.

That's admirable language.  Now let's be sure our officials and police department are held accountable to these lofty aspirations.