Police point to culture change

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo speaks about Justine Damond’s case at Pershing Park Feb. 26.

Insp. Kathy Waite remembers a “terrible sinking feeling” when she received the July 15 phone call that Justine Damond had been shot by an officer.

“Any time you have an officer-involved shooting, you know the ripple effect that that’s going to have,” she said. “…It’s a lot for an agency to overcome, quite frankly.”

“At the end I know there has to be a sense of justice,” said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

Waite and Arradondo spoke in the Fulton neighborhood Feb. 26 about how they’re working to rebuild trust, while neighbors demanded to know how the department has changed in the months since the shooting.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman continues to seek more information before deciding whether to charge Officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting. More than 30 officers have been summoned to testify before a grand jury, according to the police union president.

“I’m still just left wondering why and how could this have happened,” said Fulton resident Chris Gegax. “I’m really sad and angry still that nothing has really happened with this officer.”

Arradondo said he needs to let Noor’s judicial process play out before taking any employment action. To do so early would jeopardize the process, he said.

“But for the hours, days and weeks that it goes on, I know people are very frustrated, because they feel that there is no accountability. My accountability is allowing that criminal process to play itself out,” he said. “And then based on what happens there, then I will have the employment piece to that. … Whatever the decision is, it’s going to be tough.”

Police 5

Council Member Linea Palmisano and Arradondo talked about recent changes to the body camera policy, which remove “gray area” and clearly state officers should activate cameras whenever they respond to a call or initiate contact. The body cameras of both Noor and his partner were off during the shooting, and a September audit found that officers were activating cameras for only about two-thirds of all dispatches.

Arradondo said a recent policy change states that if an officer deactivates a camera, he or she must document the reason for turning it off. The policy will continue to evolve, he said.

Police 1Apart from body cameras, Arradondo said another shift in the department relates to officer wellness. In years past, he said officers were expected to shrug off trauma on the job — whether it be a homicide, baby not breathing or child witnessing domestic assault — with an attitude to “suck it up and get back out there on the next call.” Arradondo said that culture should change. Similar to debriefings that follow military service, the police department should debrief officers, he said.

One meeting attendee said she’s glad to hear police talk about officer wellness. She said some police shootings have left her wondering if officers were stressed or mentally ill, causing them to become trigger-happy.

Supervisors are checking in with officers more often, Waite said. And the 5th Precinct now offers weekly yoga and mindfulness sessions, giving officers a chance to reflect on job stress.

Arradondo said officers are responsible for their actions, however, and said officers must always follow policy despite threatening incidents like the 2016 ambush of police officers in Dallas, which riveted the department.

Arradondo said that when he took over as police chief, he knew that community trust would be a top priority.

“Quite frankly, there were some parts of our community where that trust never existed, and then some where it had certainly been shaken,” he said.

The morning after he was sworn in as police chief, Arradondo said every member of the department received a vision statement laying out his expectations.

“If you lie in your words, in reports, I have no need for you and I won’t tolerate it,” he said. “Acts of discrimination? Can’t have you here.”

Officers are also accountable for actions like social media posts while not in uniform, he said.

Under current practice, the chief’s disciplinary actions can be overturned through the police union arbitration process. Arradondo said he’s closely watching a Richfield Police Department case that’s testing the use of arbitration to reinstate an officer the chief tried to fire.

“I’m watching it with bated breath. Because if they rule in favor of the chief of police in Richfield, it helps,” he said. “We have employees who should not be wearing this uniform that are, because a third party weighed in.”

Rather than spar with the union president, however, Arradondo said he wants to focus on the 300 officers that elect him.

“The union president’s not going to be here 10, 15, 20 years from now. But they will be. I need to focus and persuade them on the importance of procedural justice, on the importance of accountability,” he said.

He said he wants to create a climate where even a rookie cop would feel comfortable intervening if a field training officer was acting inappropriately.

One meeting attendee asked the police chief if he’d be open to reviewing the use of force policy, perhaps limiting force when guns are not present.

In response, Arradondo said the current policy focuses on what a “reasonable” officer would have done with the information available at the time, which is based on Supreme Court precedent. A recent update to the policy states that officer actions should not cause unnecessary injury to themselves, their partner or the public.

Police 4Waite said that means the SWAT team is rarely kicking down doors.

“De-escalation is really key,” she said, “…being able to disengage as quickly as you engage.”

She said residents might see officers backing away while verbalizing commands, or talking to friends or neighbors before rushing in to a scene.

Palmisano, who hosted the Feb. 26 conversation, mentioned the 2013 officer shooting of Terrance Franklin. Police pursued Franklin into the basement of a house, and shot and killed him during a confrontation. Policing has evolved since that time, Palmisano said, noting the recent 36-hour standoff with a man at a university campus hotel.

Following the meeting, Ryan Masterson said Arradondo’s comments made sense, but they still leave him frustrated.

“I’m glad to hear his energy is being put toward the new generation,” he said.

Gegax said he appreciated hearing the officers open up and speak.

“I don’t think I will be satisfied until Officer Noor is accountable,” he said.