Minneapolis' mayor and police chief on Tuesday announced changes in the city's disciplinary processes for police officers in an effort to make it easier to hold them accountable for bad behavior.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Chief Medaria Arradondo, in their latest initiative to change department practices in the wake of George Floyd's death, said the city attorney's office would be more deeply involved in misconduct investigations as soon as they begin, helping to guide them and to analyze evidence.
Frey said more than 50% of all disciplinary cases are either reduced or overturned, with arbitrators typically citing due process concerns such as faulty investigation. He called that unacceptable.
"We want to take every reason that stems from City Hall for overturning a disciplinary decision off the table," Frey said.
The city attorney's office will also offer the chief legal advice on disciplinary decisions, and work with the department's training unit to make sure it is "fostering a culture of accountability and professionalism."
Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality, was skeptical that the newest change would make much difference. She suggested the city's need to minimize exposure to civil litigation over an officer's actions would be a strong disincentive to the city attorney's office in investing an allegation of misconduct.
"A lot's going to depend on whether they can figure out their conflicting roles," she said.
City Attorney Jim Rowader rejected that, saying his office "has a fidelity to truth and to the integrity of our institutions, not to individual officers."
The head of the city's police union didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tracy Fussy, the city's mitigation manager, said the new initiative should cut through some of the bureaucracy by having "someone consistently birddog the process" and by putting the emphasis on the quality, rather than speed, of an investigation.
"When misconduct goes unchecked, everybody suffers," Fussy said. "So let's stop that."
Minneapolis police have come under heavy pressure to reform since Floyd's death in May, after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, ignoring his cries of distress. The officer, Derek Chauvin, and three others on the scene were fired and charged in Floyd's death, with trial scheduled in March.
Critics said Floyd's death was just one more instance of brutality in a department long unable to change its culture. Activists have attacked a system that rarely disciplines problem officers. Chauvin had 17 complaints against him and had been disciplined only once.
A Minneapolis Star Tribune analysis the month after Floyd's death found that statewide, more than 80 police officers had fought their firings in arbitration over the past 20 years, and about half got their jobs back. The newspaper's analysis of decisions by the state's mediation office included 10 cases involving Minneapolis police officers, with eight of them getting their jobs back.
Public safety unit rejected
In the months since Floyd's death, the city has struggled over how to reshape the department, with an unsuccessful push by several City Council members to do away with it entirely in favor of a new public safety unit.
Frey and Arradondo, who opposed that move, have launched several initiatives since Floyd's death. Those including limiting the use of so-called no-knock warrants, revising use-of-force policies and requiring officers to report on their attempts to de-escalate situations.
The city is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the union. Arradondo announced in June that the city was pausing negotiations for a review of ways the deal could be restructured to give more flexibility, including on how discipline is handled.
Frey declined Tuesday to give an update on where those negotiations stand. The city this month announced an agreement with an outside law firm, Jones Day, for free assistance that could include involvement in the negotiations.