Minnesota Department of Human Rights Finds Pattern of Racial Discrimination in PD Practices

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights launched an investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis. Now, after a two-year study, the Minnesota DHR has determined that the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination towards Black residents.

The findings mean that DHR, which is the state’s civil rights enforcement agency, will work with the city to develop a consent decree. A judge of the Hennepin County District Court would then oversee the MPD’s implementation of the policy and practice changes enshrined in the decree.

As reported in The Washington Post, the discriminatory practices cited in the DHR report include:

  • Racial disparities in how officers “use force, stop, search, arrest, and cite people of color, particularly Black individuals, compared to white individuals in similar circumstances”
  • Use of “covert social media to surveil Black individuals and Black organizations, unrelated to criminal activity”
  • The “consistent use of racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language”
  • A culture of poor training that lacked oversight and accountability

In developing its 72-page report, DHR is said to have pored over “hundreds of thousands of pages of documents,” which included internal communications, officers’ disciplinary records, and a year’s worth of use-of-force incidents and traffic stops. Other documentary evidence included around 700 hours of body-camera footage. Investigators also took a hands-on approach by watching police training, joining officers on ride-alongs, and conducting interviews with community members, officers, prosecutors, and city officials.

DHR claims to have observed “significant racial disparities” in the way officers used force, including deadly force, and how they “conducted traffic stops, issued citations, carried out searches and made arrests.” The report notes that although people of color account for only 42 percent of the local population, they accounted for 93 percent of the “officer-involved” deaths between January 2020 and February 2022. Moreover, while Blacks make up 19 percent of the population, they were subjects in 63 percent of the incidents where police used force.

DHR hinted at what the coming consent decree might look like when it suggested several immediate steps the police department should take, including:

  • Implementing stronger internal oversight to hold officers accountable for their conduct
  • Better training for officers
  • Better communication with the public about officer-involved shootings and other critical incidents

The Minneapolis Police Department had already implemented reforms following Floyd’s death in police custody on 25 May 2020. These include banning chokeholds, requiring officers to report or intervene in incidents where a fellow officer used excessive or inappropriate force, and giving the chief of police sole authority to approve the use of crowd control weapons during protests. Other measures since adopted require officers to document attempts to de-escalate situations and refrain from stopping motorists for minor traffic violations.

Upon release of the report, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey admitted to NBC News that the city “has a lot of work ahead’ but that it is also ‘galvanized around making the necessary change and culture shift we need, not just in the police department but throughout the city.’"

A federal investigation conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 is still pending. There is no word at this time when that inquiry might be concluded.

Community leaders were divided in their enthusiasm for the report. An attorney for the Floyd family called its release “historic,” and “monumental in its importance.” Meanwhile, a representative of the advocacy group Communities United Against Police Brutality called its findings “obvious.”

The concern now is what the state will do with the information the report has brought to light. Will meaningful changes be made to transform the Minneapolis PD? Or, when another citizen in custody cries out that he cannot breathe, will officers stand down and allow another killing to take place? We look forward to seeing the content of the consent decree, and the commitment MPD shows to its implementation.