Who Ya Gonna Call?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Police officers are too important to our society not to be regulated, licensed, and paid as such.

To: Department of Community
Safety and Violence Prevention
City Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55402

To Whom It May Concern:

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Well, it certainly won’t be the Minneapolis City Council members who wish to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department (but not the private security companies that protect several of them). And, if you’re a person of color, making that call may result in a frightful outcome.

We all know why this discussion is overdue. A New York Times review of Minneapolis official figures show that in the last five years, the Minneapolis Police Department used force against Black people at seven times the rates used against white people. Neck restraints designed to render a suspect unconscious have been used 44 times in the past five years—27 times on Black people according to the same review. In the last five years, body-weight pinning has been used roughly 2,200 times against Black people, twice the number of times used against whites. These statistics now have a name: George Floyd. But you don’t have to believe in the paranormal to know that something is not normal about Minneapolis policing. The cry to “defund” or “depolice” the police department is partly a cry of long overdue frustration.

Prior to the tragic events of May 25, no member of the Minneapolis City Council had publicly advanced any detail of any plan to change the Minneapolis police force. Nor, at least publicly, had the well-regarded chief, Medaria Arradondo, been asked to submit a report to the Council outlining dramatic reform measures. The chief, having been a member of the Minneapolis Police Department since 1989, Black, and a resident of the City of Minneapolis, would probably have some insight into radically restructuring this department. Minneapolis maintains a significant presence at the Minnesota Legislature, but, at least publicly, the City Council had not used that leverage to propose any significant legislative changes into state policing laws or regulations.

In a recent op-ed, Joseph Anthony, a 46-year resident of Minneapolis and well-known trial attorney, points out that the City Council’s decision to support “defunding” followed no period of study or reflection. He went on to point out that the City Council has been a complete and abject failure in many of the projects it has undertaken, including trying to clean up Block E and Hennepin Avenue. The Nicollet Mall project ($50 million of taxpayers’ money) is another example of the City Council being unable to plan with successful execution. The Minneapolis City Council frequently acts like the Star Wars bar scene without a Jedi present.

So, we get the frustration and we share it, but we need a plan. Here are some ideas:

Bust the union. Various commentaries have suggested changing the Minneapolis Police Federation, or getting rid of Lt. Bob Kroll, its president. If Kroll is really part of the cultural problem at the Minneapolis Police Department, he is more its reflection than its cause. And for that matter, arbitration strictures in that contract are part of the collective bargaining agreement, which requires the assent of the City of Minneapolis (via the Minneapolis City Council). The current collective bargaining agreement has expired and a new one is to be negotiated.

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Reform now. The city can insist on reform measures as part of any newly negotiated collective bargaining agreement and longer term can use its legislative clout to effect reform as a statutory matter. Here are some steps that should be taken now:

  • Body cams must be turned on in any use-of-force situation.
  • All use-of-force situations must be reported to the chief and mayor within 48 hours.
  • Three judges must approve any no-knock warrant.
  • The use of maneuvers that threaten asphyxiation are prohibited.
  • The city shall not indemnify any police officer who asserts a qualified-immunity defense in any court action.
  • The city will not indemnify, nor provide legal counsel to, any police officer tried in a criminal court for the crime of manslaughter or homicide.
  • All police officers must maintain their principal place of residence in the city.

Police reform longer term. The important professions in this state are licensed as such and are subject to professional peer review. This works for the approximately 25,000 licensed and admitted attorneys and would work for the approximately 11,000 police officers. The Legislature should adopt a statewide system of police licensure that would include background information on complaints, disciplinary actions taken (including in other jurisdictions), and periodic license renewal requirements. Police officers are too important to our society not to be regulated, licensed, and paid as such. License renewal, required by state law, could be conditioned on additional training in group violence prevention and conflict de-escalation techniques. Those professions licensed by the state, such as lawyers, dentists, doctors, or cosmetologists require some form of continuing education. We should require no less of peace officers.

In the weeks following the Memorial Day riots, eight people were shot to death, and at least 118 were injured. This level of violence also calls for a specific and disciplined response. Because if you’re all alone, pick up the phone and call … who?

Vance K. Opperman
Thankful for our real heroes

Vance K. Opperman
is owner and CEO of MSP
Communications, which publishes
Twin Cities Business.