Police reform without a mandate
Minneapolis residents who want to file a complaint with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) are now able to do so at several community-based sites across the city, thanks to an initiative led by the Unity Community Mediation Team (UCMT).
The announcement came at UCMT’s 2023 Annual Report Back to the Community and Celebration Dinner, which took place on November 20, at Sabathani Community Center.
AJ Flowers, a member of UCMT and the Young People’s Task Force spoke to an audience full of community members, city officials, and law enforcement personnel about the need for satellite locations to give diverse communities more options to file complaints.
“We know a lot of times in our community, people don’t feel comfortable going to certain places. So, what we decided to do was open our own places where people can come and file their reports,” he said.
Flowers specified that the sites would function to directly connect diverse communities with the complaint process and give them a location where they could feel comfortable and heard.
These new community sites will work in coordination with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, which processes complaints against the MPD.
This effort is to fulfill one of the many goals of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between the UCMT and the MPD.
The MOU is a statement designed to reflect the shared principles of the UCMT and the MPD, to recognize the community partnership between the two organizations, and how that partnership contributes to public safety.
Adversaries become allies
Although the UCMT negotiated its first agreement with MPD in 2003, it was revisited in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers. It has become a living document and is just one of three agreements that aim to hold the city and its police department accountable for past violations.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey attended the celebration dinner and shared that his office was “100 percent on board” to sit down with the UCMT and work out a list of compliance measures. He expressed his desire to see more of a collaborative approach from other critics of the MPD.
“One of the areas where I feel we often fall short in our city, in kind of the activist world is thinking that reforms can be done to people rather than done with them,” he said.
Frey went on to praise members of the UCMT and MPD officers for engaging in conversation and working together to hammer out the public safety issues the city faces.
“We want to get to compliance with not just 25 percent of these items, but with 100 percent of them,” Frey stated. “There’s more than a few people out there that will do things with a purely political agenda in mind. That’s not you guys.”
Police reform agenda
After signing the agreement in 2022, the UCMT and MPD have worked towards compliance with their MOU. The MOU agreement has 14 sections, ranging from training to cultural awareness and sensitivity.
The event outlined eight sections with over 30 items listed in the update showcasing the progress of both organizations in their efforts to uphold the agreement.
The update indicated 13 use-of-force items that were now in compliance, along with seven MPD community relations items such as reestablishing the complaint reporting process through diverse community groups like UCMT.
Unlike the consent decree, which is a legally binding agreement between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City and is enforced by a federal court, the MOU between UCMT and MPD has no provisions to hold the department accountable. Much of the work is done in good faith.
The City of Minneapolis has signed a settlement agreement with the State of Minnesota following the Department of Human Rights investigation, which found that the City and MPD engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination, violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act. A formal consent decree between the City and DOJ has not yet been finalized but may come in the next year.
While many await the signing between the federal agency and the City, others believe that the work can be done without outside input.
A spirit of collaboration
“I thank God that we were able to sit at the table without the help of the Department of Justice. We didn’t need them anymore,” UCMT Chair Pastor Ian Bethel stated. “We don’t need outside people to come in and tell us what to do. We don’t need a court order to tell us what to do. We are very capable of monitoring this.”
Council member LaTrisha Vetaw of Ward 4 gave the keynote address of the night. In her role as the chair of the Public Health and Safety Committee, Vetaw oversees MPD. She asked attendees at the dinner to continue their work in engaging their local officials and guiding the conversation.
“The spirit of collaboration is one of the best things you can have in the work that we do,” Vetaw said. “I learned a lot of work that had been done in this community for years. Even when we were told we didn’t need to be on the consent decree, you all have been doing work for decades.”
The UCMT invited other members of the community to join them in their work and support their efforts through donations or volunteering their time.
The six locations listed as Police Conduct Complaint and Information Sites are the UCMT headquarters at 4301 First Ave. S., NAACP Minneapolis at 1101 W. Broadway, Little Earth Residents Association at 2495 18th Ave. S., Indigenous Protector Movement at 1113 E. Franklin Ave., New Salem Baptist Church at 2507 Bryant Ave. N., and the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center at 924 19th Ave. S.