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 the city attorney 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, with which I wholeheartedly agree. 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 help along such culture changes, including the use of body cameras by Minneapolis police officers. Body cameras should indeed be used and celebrated as an advancement in both technology and accountability. Body cameras protect the majority of police officers, who carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism. They also protect civilians who, 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 reasonable position on body cameras, 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 sighed.
#Pointergate–as the scandal has come to be known–barely begins to highlight the significant barrier that police unions have become to officer accountability. The true power of these unions is demonstrated by their consistent and often successful defense of some truly bad cops. Officers like Sherry Appledorn & Joe Will and those involved in: the the Metro Gang Strike Force, the Beating of Derryl Jenkins, and the Shooting Death of Dominic Felder deserve to be pushed out of the police department before their behavior and attitudes result in continued and significant civil rights violations. Instead, they get protection from their peers and union out of seemingly blind and misguided allegiance. Ultimately, more so than #pointergate, the union’s successful lobbying to gut the Civilian Review Authority demonstrates why it is a real barrier to the public’s effort to hold bad officers accountable.
Litigation cannot be the only check on bad cops’ conduct. We fully support 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.