Policing in Minneapolis and Across Minnesota: What Two Reports Say

Photograph Source: Chad Davis – CC BY 2.0

Two recent reports describe challenges for policing specifically for Minneapolis and Minnesota more generally.  The first report was the Department of Justice’s Report on policing in Minneapolis which ties into a federal consent decree for reform in that city.  The second report is mine regarding what we know about policing across the State of Minnesota.

Minneapolis and the Department of Justice Report

The Department of Justice initiated an investigation into police practices in the City of Minneapolis (MPD) after the murder of George Floyd.  The report is perhaps the most comprehensive ever done on policing in Minneapolis, with a more detailed analysis and use of statistics than the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Report from last year.  The latter report had concluded  “A pattern or practice of discrimination is present where the denial of rights consists of something more than isolated, sporadic incidents, but is repeated, routine, or of a generalized nature.”

The basic takeaway from the DOJ report is that the police department violated the First (free speech) and Fourth (illegal search and seizure) Amendment rights systematically, especially in terms of its application of use of force against people of color.

In reaching that conclusion it is first important to understand two points concerning the DOJ Report.  First, its focus is on the use of (excessive) force.  It did look at other issues such as police stops and what is often called racial profiling, but most of the report examined racial disparities in terms of use of force.  Second, the US Supreme Court has said that questions of use of force raise constitutional questions, defining them as a Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue.

Overall the picture the report paints of Minneapolis is troubling.   It introduces us to a point many of us have made for years in places such as here and here—Minneapolis is a tale of two cities.  As the Report states:

By nearly all of these measures, the typical white family in the Twin Cities is doing better than the national average for white families, and the typical Black family in the Twin Cities doing worse than the national average or Black families. The median Black family in the Twin Cities earns just 44% as much as the median white family, and the poverty rate among Black households is nearly five times higher than the rate among white households. Of the United States’ 100 largest metropolitan areas, only one has a larger gap between Black and white earnings.

The cause of the racial disparities are many, but when it comes to policing, the DOJ offers several stark  conclusions.  In examining thousands of uses of force, the Report concluded:

Our investigation showed that MPD officers routinely use excessive force, often when no force is necessary. We found that MPD officers often use unreasonable force (including deadly force) to obtain immediate compliance with orders, often forgoing meaningful de-escalation tactics and instead using force to subdue people. MPD’s pattern or practice of using excessive force violates the law.

MPD officers often used neck restraints in situations that did not end in an arrest. MPD officers used neck restraints during at least 198 encounters from January 1, 2016, to August 16, 2022.

Despite banning neck restraints  in 2020, the MPD still used them.

The Report documents the use of unnecessary or excessive force across a range of tactics that include physical restraint, tasers, and weapons.  And there appears to be a racial disparity in such use of force.

Additionally, the MPD fails to provide needed medical care and officers are failing to intervene  to prevent other officers from using excessive force.

The DOJ Report also describes disparate treatment when it comes to traffic stops and searches. For example, it concludes that “We estimate that MPD stops Black people at 6.5 times the rate at which it stops white people, given their shares of the population. Similarly, we estimate  MPD stops Native American people at 7.9 times the rate at which it stops white people, given population shares.”

Finally, the Report documents significant violations of the First Amendment rights of protestors and the media to cover, photograph, or report on police misconduct.

Overall the Report reaches a series of conclusions that the Minneapolis Police Department is out of compliance with the Constitution, in part as a result of poor or improper training or supervision. Necessitating the  City enter into a consent decree and agree to remedial action.

The Price of Injustice: Taxpayer Payouts for Police Misconduct in Minnesota

But is Minneapolis alone?  This is the question I sought to answer in my report that was recently released and updated.

After Minneapolis paid out $27 million to the family of George Floyd  many wondered how much governments payout for police misconduct.  Nationally there is no database on this, nor is there one in Minnesota or any state.  In previous research I made some estimates that the amount was in the billions. I decided to construct a database for Minnesota.

We surveyed all cities in Minnesota with populations of 5,000 or more;  all 87 counties; and the State Patrol, Metro Transit, and the University of Minnesota Police.  This produced an effective coverage of 98%-100% of the population of the state.  Requests were sent to a total of 239 governmental units asking for  a list of all instances of police misconduct resulting in payouts from January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2020.  Results were obtained from all 239 surveyed.

Here is a summary of what we learned.

Nearly 30% of all governmental units made some form of payout.

There were a total of  490 incidents that resulted in payouts.

The estimated  total payout is  $60,784,822.

The estimated total payment for Minneapolis is $36,535,708.10.

Minneapolis accounted for 60.1% of total payouts in the state during the ten-year time period.

For the entire state the mean or average payout per incident was $124,500.  For Minneapolis alone, the mean or average payout was $212, 416.   The mean or average for the rest of the state excluding Minneapolis was $76, 255.

In Minneapolis the median payout is between $26,282 and $28,010.  For the rest of the state it is $6,500.  The overall median pay out was $12,000.

My report also asked for information about instances resulting in payouts, and they included use of force, property damage, improper  and improper use of data, among other instances. However, the largest category was unspecified.  We simply do not know or have sufficient data to tell us the factors such as race that led to specific  police misconduct.

The conclusion of the study was that gathering this data was difficult and time consuming and there is still too much we do not know.  I conclude that we need mandated statewide collection and standardization of data about police misconduct if we are going to seriously think about any policy change when it comes to policing.

How the Two Reports Interact

First, the DOJ report is only about Minneapolis.  My report is statewide.  Two, my report covers all instances of police misconduct which resulted in payouts.  Third, the DOJ report gathers its own statistics to analyze, while my report is based on an analysis of self-reported  data from the governmental agencies.  Fourth, the DOJ was able to discuss and examine race issues in Minneapolis, my statewide report lacked the data to do that.

One pushback I received on my report is that not all instances of misconduct are really misconduct.  However, the information reported here is self-reported and governmental entities could  have opted not to report if they did not deem it misconduct.  Two, even if police disagree, my report documented misconduct resulting in settlements by the reporting governmental entity.  Whatever happened the reporting jurisdiction decided that they had to make payouts for what their police did.

However, another way to view how the reports interact is in the focus on Minneapolis.  The two reports look at different time frames but reach parallel conclusions on  issues such as payouts for misconduct.   But what jumps out is that  the total instances of misconduct in Minneapolis and statewide may be higher than thought.

My study reports 172 instances in Minneapolis over a ten-year period that resulted in payouts for police misconduct.  If the DOJ report is accurate, there could have possibly been hundreds of other  instances that  should have resulted in payouts.  Why the under-reporting?

In my study I hypothesize that  of all the instances  where police and civilians interact, only a fraction of them may be circumstances where something goes wrong. Of those, only a fraction involve situations where civilians know something went wrong and then file a complaint or lawsuit and then of those, only some result in payouts. What the DOJ report suggests is that the number and percentage of misconduct in Minneapolis is probably greater than my report indicates.  This too may be true statewide.

Overall, the conclusion of my report is that we need to understand what happened in the instances where payouts occurred and  use them as case studies to help formulate policy change. The DOJ diagnoses the problems in Minneapolis and offers recommendations for change. Whether what is happening in Minneapolis is generalizable to all of Minnesota we still do not know, and neither the DOJ or my report can answer that question.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.