The attention brought to police reform lately has also brought attention to the fact that the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has tried for the last 10 years to adopt an Early Intervention System (EIS) but has failed to do so. The Minneapolis City Council voted in early October to accept a $500,000 grant that would fund an early intervention system intended to identify at-risk police officers before misconduct occurs.
The intervention system, funded by a Pohlad Family Foundation grant, would track citizen complaints, use of force reports, disciplinary records and officer performance, then use predictive modeling to flag officers in need of support to prevent missteps, explained Mayor Jacob Frey and MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo recently.
Frey hopes the system will be up and running by early or mid-2022. But while the conversation around EIS has been re-energized, the preventative tool has apparently been the victim of bureaucratic red tape and foot dragging.
In 2014, former police chief Janeé Harteau invited the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a review of the department. Following a nine-month process, the Office of Justice Programs released a 35-page report that identified problems in the department and made recommendations about how internal practices could be optimized.
The report noted that an early intervention system had been in place in the city since 2009 but characterized the system as flawed, finding it had “gaps” and was not implemented uniformly. The report said the EIS in place at the time was “perceived as a wellness program, suggesting a human resources function as opposed to a systemized accountability and risk management tool.”
In 2015, after acknowledging the Department of Justice’s recommendations in a 2014 open letter about policing and racial justice, former mayor Betsy Hodges requested in the City’s budget proposal that $124,000 be allocated toward a full-time employee to facilitate the adoption of a new EIS.
Minneapolis City Council Ward 2 member Cam Gordon noted that the council approved the measure, and that a job position for an EIS specialist was posted in 2019. But a candidate shared in a June 2020 email to Gordon that although they had been selected as a finalist for the position, they never heard back about the job. It’s not clear if anyone had been hired to fill the position.
“And then COVID came and they said there was a hiring freeze,” Gordon said. “But they had plenty of time to make a hire before the hiring freeze in my opinion.”
The Star Tribune reported last year that efforts to establish an EIS had “fallen off course.” Gordon said he’s not sure the system will be any different this time and the funds should not be released until a solid plan is in place.
“I’m not that hopeful it will be any different from what happened the last time we got excited and thought we were going to get our early warning system, and the time before that, and the time before that,” said Gordon.
Gordon suggested that the trajectory of the EIS could be more positive if it’s separate from the MPD and possibly housed in the City’s Department of Civil Rights, where the system would be managed more objectively and inspire more trust from the community.
“It would be nice to have someone with some independence from the [police] department managing it,” said Gordon.
He also stressed, much like the Department of Justice report did half a decade ago, that the EIS be more focused on accountability than wellness.
“It’s really critically important that when we have City employees that have the authority to use lethal force on people, to restrain them, to arrest them, to hold them down, that we do a better job of making sure they don’t hurt people when it isn’t necessary and when it’s wrong.”
But Frey has already teed-up the new EIS to be wellness-focused and says the system should track sick days and indications officers might be depressed. “We want them to have the ability to be well,” said Frey in a recent interview with KARE11, “to recalibrate between some of these difficult calls and then ultimately be in a state of wellness where they can best protect our city.”
Although appropriate implementation of the EIS has proved a challenge for the City, a well-functioning system could save lives, Gordon said. “I bet you if we opened up all the private information and the files” about Derek Chauvin, “people would have said, ‘Why didn’t we know that this person was a risk, and why didn’t somebody do something?’”
In addition to the $500,000 to fund the EIS, the Pohlad Family Foundation grant includes $200,000 to go toward a mobile mental health crisis unit, which will dispatch unarmed, non-police mental health providers to emergency mental health calls.
Niara Savage is a contributor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.