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DOJ finds Minneapolis Police had a pattern of 'unconstitutional policing'


The Justice Department has released its long-awaited investigation into the Minneapolis police following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police. That investigation sets the stage for a federal reform program for the police there. NPR's law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste joins us. Martin, thanks for being here.


GONYEA: So what did this DOJ investigation tell us about the Minneapolis police?

KASTE: Well, the DOJ has identified four broad problems or patterns. The first one is racial bias. They say the police in Minneapolis have had a pattern of stopping Black people and Native Americans at a higher rate than whites - second, that they have been too quick to use force, both firearms as well as less lethal things like Tasers. Third, they say that the Minneapolis police have suppressed free speech. This comes out of incidents during the 2020 and '21 protests when officers physically punished protesters and journalists, sometimes with pepper spray, according to the investigators. And finally, there have been complaints about unnecessary police force against people with behavioral disabilities. The DOJ calls this discrimination. These are situations when the police use force even though the person doesn't seem to pose a threat.

GONYEA: Everything you describe we've heard of police doing some of these things in other cities especially during 2020. And it's certainly not news that Minneapolis police have committed abuses. Why is the Justice Department focused on Minneapolis specifically here?

KASTE: Well, the DOJ really had to take this step after George Floyd and the prominence of that horrific incident. The prosecution of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin and other officers did delay things for the feds here. But now that we have those convictions, the fundamental question of what led to that incident still remain. And here's Attorney General Merrick Garland talking about the past patterns of police behavior in Minneapolis.


MERRICK GARLAND: We also found that MPD officers failed to intervene to prevent unreasonable use of force by other officers. Indeed, as outlined in our report, years before he killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin used excessive force on other occasions in which multiple MPD officers stood by and did not stop him.

GONYEA: Martin, the Justice Department has identified what it calls a pattern of bad - and not just bad, but unconstitutional policing in Minneapolis. So what comes next?

KASTE: Well, now the feds want Minneapolis to agree to a reform plan, something they call a consent decree. This is the federal government's biggest hammer when it comes to forcing local police to make changes. Under the implied threat here of a federal civil rights lawsuit, they would negotiate with the city what that plan should look like. Garland said that the feds have 28 remedial measures in mind for Minneapolis - things like more training, better systems for holding officers accountable, that kind of thing.

GONYEA: And Minneapolis officials, are they willing to accept the federal reform plans?

KASTE: Well, they certainly say they welcome this investigation and the federal help. They also, though, point to the steps they've already taken such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants and the fact that they're working on a separate consent decree with the state of Minnesota. So this still is a negotiation here. The city has not yet agreed to the specifics of the federal plan. You know, whatever they do agree to, they'll be locked into probably years of effort, and it'll probably cost quite a bit of money. The Minneapolis police also have other problems right now. This is Chief Brian O'Hara. He was brought on late last year.


BRIAN O'HARA: The MPD has lost hundreds of officers over the last three years. And just like all of the residents of the city of Minneapolis, the officers who remain have experienced a whole lot of trauma. And the reality is this is an incredibly difficult job, to be a police officer in this city at this time.

KASTE: And the chief says his job now is to rebuild this department and to recruit enough new officers who are committed to what everyone has been calling this cultural change.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Martin Kaste. Martin, thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.