In August 2012, I wrote about the problem with the City of Minneapolis dispensing with civilian review of police officers’ conduct. That year, the Minneapolis Police officers’ union, Velma Korbel and Susan Segal collectively took a nail gun to the coffin of the now-defunct Civilian Review Authority.
Over two years later, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges penned an open letter acknowledging that Minneapolis has some bad police officers and that there is a strained relationship between Minneapolis police and parts of the community. Mayor Hodges also reiterated her commitment to civilian review and police officer accountability in general. In doing so, she mentioned the need for the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department to change, which I wholeheartedly agree with. (For example, this summer, I spoke with watchdog.org about the militarization of police and the effect it can have on the culture of a police department.)
In the end, Mayor Hodges proposed several things to establish such a culture changes, including the use of body cameras by Minneapolis Police officers. Use of body cameras by those we give a badge and a gun and entrust to protect us should be celebrated as advancements in both technology and accountability. Body cameras protect the majority of police officers, who have hard jobs but carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism. They also protect civilians who, quite frankly, are too often victims of illegal conduct by bad cops.
Unfortunately, some police officers don’t like the use of technology that helps ensure such accountability. Last week, in what amounts to transparent retaliation against Mayor Hodges for her extremely reasonable position, officers of the Minneapolis Police Department sent a photo to KSTP News of Mayor Hodges posing with a North Minneapolis get-out-the-vote volunteer. The officers declared that Mayor Hodges, who was pointing at the volunteer, was flashing a “known gang sign.” The nation collectively exhaled.
#Pointergate–as the scandal has come to be known–barely begins to highlight the significant barrier police unions have become to police officer accountability. The true power of these unions is demonstrated by their consistent and often successful defense of some truly bad cops. Officers like the Metro Gang Strike Force, Sherry Appledorn & Joe Will, Beating of Derryl Jenkins, Shooting Death of Dominic Felder deserve to be pushed out of the police department before their behavior and attitudes result in such significant civil rights violations, not protected by their peers out of blind allegiance. Ultimately, more so than #pointergate, the unions’ successful lobbying to gut the Civilian Review Authority demonstrates why it is a real barrier to the public’s effort to hold bad police officers accountable.
Litigation cannot be the only check on bad cops’ conduct. Madia Law fully supports Mayor Hodges’ position on officer accountability and police-community relations. It is time to reverse the trend. Transparency is better for both police officers and citizens.