Budget passes; plan to spend $605K on 4th Precinct dropped

Officers guard the 4th Precinct in mid-November 2015 as protesters condemned the police shooting of Jamar Clark. File photo by Annabelle Marcovici

The City Council passed a roughly $1.2 billion city budget for 2016 Wednesday night after a lengthy public hearing where Council members and Mayor Betsy Hodges faced sharp criticism for a last-minute proposal to spend $605,000 on improvements at the 4th Precinct police station.

The proposed budget amendment authored by City Council Member Blong Yang (Ward 5) was withdrawn after roughly 60 people blasted the Council for considering it. The Council did not discuss the proposal, but Yang and Hodges issued a news release Wednesday afternoon in support of redirecting money to pay for “safety and accessibility improvements” at the 4th Precinct. 

Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said city leaders should be investing more in the people on the North Side. “This is a shame,” she said. “It is time you invest in us and not the police. That simple.”

Many other speakers shared personal stories of police abuse with the Council, including Aisha Good, who said police threw her to the ground and dragged her by her hijab during the protests at the 4th Precinct. She said she sustained a concussion as a result of the incident. 

They admonished city leaders for what they described as indifference to their complaints about the police and for failing to take tangible action to deal with the city’s racial inequities. 

Nick Espinosa said he has been dismayed by what’s taken place in the city in the past three weeks. 

“This Council has espoused a lot of equity rhetoric and I hope we don’t have to wait until 2017 to see some equity action,” he said. 

Hodges thanked the speakers for sharing their thoughts with city leaders, but defended her commitment to addressing disparities. “There are millions of dollars for equity in this budget,” she said. 

Another budget amendment passed by the Council will redirect $350,000 toward a three-day training in procedural justice for all officers in 2016 and accelerate training for officers in handling crisis situations.

“This amendment comes out of our long-term engagement with the National Initiative [for Building Community Trust & Justice] and the recently-proposed implementation plan. It is also a response to the crisis of the last three weeks and an acknowledgment that we need to do more,” Hodges said in a statement. “Ensuring that police officers are fully trained to conduct themselves fairly, recognize and unlearn the biases that we all carry with us, and respond appropriately during crisis is a high priority for residents, businesses, officers, and the community.”

The City Council’s Community of the Whole got an update on the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice project earlier today — a three-year project the city is participating in along with five other cities across the country. The Department of Justice has awarded the National Network for Safe Communities through the John Jay College of Criminal Justice a $4.75 million grant to carryout the project, which is led by a consortium of researchers who have extensive experience with the criminal justice system.

The update comes after weeks of protests and an 18-day encampment of the 4th Precinct police station following the police shooting death of Jamar Clark on Nov. 15 — an event that has brought fresh attention to tensions between police and communities of color in Minneapolis.

The National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice project focuses on three key areas: reducing implicit bias among officers and the community, improving procedural justice and providing forums for reconcialition. The project kicked off in March.

Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Medaria (Rondo) Arradondo said five members of the MPD recently attended implicit bias and procedural justice workshops in Chicago to learn model police department practices. Those individuals will then help facilitate training for the rest of the police department.

Officers will also participate in anonymous surveys measuring their perceptions, opinions and biases to help researchers get a better picture of the climate of the department.

Researchers will also be collecting data on the department’s use of force, pedestrian and vehicle stops for a national database.

Another key aspect of the initiative is focused on a “reconciliation and truth-telling process” for police leaders and marginalized communities in the city, Arradondo said.

“That [process] will include an acknowledgement of historical harms, narrative sharing and a commitment to reform,” he said. “… It can also include a clear statement by police leadership acknowledging law enforcement’s crucial role in aspects of the nation’s history of racial discrimination, of unintended harms caused by traditional enforcement methods and also a clear statement of the ways in which police leadership intends to change the cultures and practices so as to address these issues moving forward.”

Arradondo said it will be “imperative” for the community to shape the reconciliation process.

City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said he would like to see residents of the entire city be exposed to the work of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice.

“There’s an awareness throughout the city now that there’s a divide that some people didn’t see in the way that government … police are treating our citizens,” he said.

Hodges said the work will require patience.

“It’s not flashy. It’s not one thing all at once — it’s not like there is some magic way to snap our fingers and have the kind of systematic change that we wish for occur,” she said. “… This isn’t about change. It’s about transformation, and that we as a city are dedicated to transforming the relationship that our officers have with the community and the community has with our officers.”

In addition to the Trust and Justice project, police leaders are also focused on diversifying the police force, improving an early intervention system to identify problematic behaviors among officers and implementing the new police body camera project in early 2016.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau noted that the most recent class of community service officers is about 68 percent people of color, she said.

“I will tell you it is very challenging in this country today to recruit police officers and frankly, to recruit officers of color. I am mortified with how my officers of color were treated in the last three weeks,” she said.  

Some remain skeptical 

Critics, meanwhile, are urging the city to act now to address allegations of racism within the department.

Andrea Brown, chair of the city’s Police Conduct Oversight Commission, urged city leaders to make sure the researchers with the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice project include the commission during the work in Minneapolis.

“It’s imperative that they meet with us,” she said.

The commission investigations complaints about police misconduct.

Dave Bicking, a member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said he is concerned that the national project is “coming at the problem backwards.”

“I fear that the real solutions will continue to be stalled while there is further study and further study,” he said.

Communities United Against Police Brutality has highlighted research indicating that of 962 complaints made against police in the past two and a half years, only one officer has been disciplined.

“Implicit bias is important but we have a department with serious, very explicit racial bias in attitudes and actions,” he said. “And reconciliation, that can only begin after there is a major change in conduct.”

Mike Spangenberg of Fulton said it’s critical for white people to hold one another accountable for being complicit in perpetuating white supremacy.

He said it will take more than three days for officers to learn to address their implicit biases.

“A couple days of training is a process. I want to focus on the outputs,” he said. “What will the results be? … There has to be a bar for cultural competence among police officers — especially white officers.”

He urged police leaders to negotiate with the police union to make that part of officers’ contracts.

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, who has been an outspoken critic of city leaders and the MPD, said she’s supportive of the Trust & Justice project, but called on leaders to take urgent action to address concerns.

“If we are serious about gaining community trust so that this initiative can be successful there are steps that need to be taken now to rein in the police department and send a message that this body will no longer tolerate abuse at the hands of the police department and officers will be held accountable for harassing, abusing and criminalizing people, particularly on the North Side of Minneapolis,” she said.

She criticized the MPD for putting up fencing and barricades around the 4th Precinct police station after the protest encampment was removed Dec. 2. She questioned how many tax dollars went to fortifying the precinct.

“We have our priorities mixed up. It’s time for a paradigm shift in the city,” she said. “We want to work with the city. We want to trust the city but we cannot tolerate business as usual.”