Minneapolis approves ban on police chokeholds, enhanced intervention orders

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The Minneapolis City Council has agreed to a state order that will ban city police from using chokeholds, place stronger requirements on officers to intervene in inappropriate use of force and require approval from department leadership before using rubber bullets, chemical irritants or other weapons for crowd control. 

The terms — stipulations of a temporary restraining order connected to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department spurred by the killing of George Floyd — were unanimously approved by the City Council on June 5. 

“This is a moment in time where we can totally change how our police department operates,” Mayor Jacob Frey said. “We cannot fail.” 

Some orders will change department policy entirely, like a ban on all chokeholds and neck restraints.  Floyd died after then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, in what was a banned type of neck restraint under department policy, but other chokeholds had been allowed. A new order decrees that only the chief of police or designated deputy chief can approve use of disbursement weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas in crowd control operations. The order additionally requires the city police conduct review office to regularly audit body camera footage from MPD; today footage is only examined if a complaint is filed. 

Other stipulations build on existing policies surrounding use of force. The state order requires any officer who witnesses unauthorized use of force immediately report the action to their commander, regardless of rank or tenure. It also calls on all officers to intervene verbally and physically to stop unauthorized use of force by other officers; the same disciplinary action will be doled out to officers who stand by as to the offending officer.  The new state order gives existing policy more “teeth” and emphasizes intervention must occur “regardless of rank or tenure, according to Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero.

“I want to stress and highlight that none of this is new,” she said. 

The state Department of Human Rights launched a civil rights investigation against MPD on June 2 to review department policies and procedures in the past decade to determine if police have engaged in discriminatory practices. State law allows the Department of Human Rights to seek emergency court action for relief when “immediate harm is being done,” and officials believe such harm is being done in Minneapolis right now.

The order also requires MPD to clear up the backlog of disciplinary decisions for officers accused of misconduct. Current policy requires a decision within 45 days, but that hasn’t happened, Lucero said. Going forward the department will need to make disciplinary decisions within 30 days of a complaint and to make those decisions available to the public. 

“These are immediate changes designed to stop irreparable harm,” Lucero said. 

The City Council is starting to discuss large-scale changes to public safety in the wake of Floyd’s death. Council Member Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4) said he wants to see a complete transformation of the system. 

“As a council member I will tell you I am not interested in any more reforms,” Cunningham said.