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Chief Struggles With MN Police Culture 06/05 06:36


   MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- When Medaria Arradondo was tapped to lead the 
Minneapolis Police Department in 2017, he faced a public newly outraged by the 
fatal police shooting of a woman who had called 911 and still carrying deep 
mistrust from the killing of a black man two years earlier.

   Many hoped Arradondo, the city's first African American police chief, could 
change the culture of a department that critics said too frequently used 
excessive force and discriminated against people of color. He spoke of 
restoring trust during a swearing-in ceremony that became a community 
celebration featuring song, dance and prayer in a center close to where he grew 

   But George Floyd's death, which ignited nationwide protests over racial 
injustice and police brutality, has raised questions about whether Arradondo -- 
or any chief -- can fix the department now facing a civil rights investigation.

   Steve Belton, president and CEO of the Urban League of the Twin Cities, said 
Arradondo inherited a department with a history of misconduct "over many, many, 
many decades" and "it won't be fixed overnight, maybe not even in this 
particular moment or with this particular chief. Change takes time."

   Arradondo, a fifth-generation Minnesotan, joined the Minneapolis Police 
Department in 1989 as a patrol officer, eventually working his way up to 
precinct inspector and head of the Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates 
officer misconduct allegations. Along the way, he and four other black officers 
successfully sued the department for discrimination in promotions, pay and 
discipline. His predecessor, Janee Harteau, promoted him to assistant chief in 
early 2017.

   He took over months later, after Harteau was forced out over the fatal 
shooting of Australia native Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who had called 911 to 
report a possible sexual assault behind her house. The black officer in that 
case was convicted of third-degree murder and is serving a 12 1/2-year term. 
Damond's death came two years after 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who was black, was 
killed in a scuffle with two white police officers, setting off weeks of 
protests; neither officer was charged.

   Arradondo made some quick changes, including toughening the department's 
policy on use of body cameras. But City Council member Steve Fletcher said 
Arradondo was lenient with discipline in his first year as chief as he worked 
to build department morale, which made getting rid of problem officers 
difficult later.

   "I think the chief's heart is in the right place," Fletcher said. "But I 
don't think this department was ever going to let him get there."

   "I think people understand he was in an impossible situation," Fletcher 

   Police spokesman John Elder said Arradondo has succeeded with some changes. 
For example, all officers -- new and tenured -- must go through training that 
stresses respectful interaction with the public. Elder said the chief was 
immersed in Floyd's memorial service Thursday and was unavailable for an 

   Arradondo quickly fired the four officers at the scene of Floyd's death.

   Derek Chauvin, the white officer seen on cellphone video pressing his knee 
into Floyd's neck while ignoring pleas that he couldn't breathe, has been 
charged with second-degree murder and other counts. City records show he had 17 
complaints against him, only one of which resulted in discipline. He also shot 
two people during his 19-year career and was never charged.

   The other three officers were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree 

   Harteau said she received push-back from the union when she was trying to 
implement reforms. This week she called on police union President Lt. Bob Kroll 
to resign after he called the unrest in the city "a terrorist movement" and 
suggested police should have been able to use tear gas and more forceful 
measures early on.

   Kroll -- who praised Arradondo when he was promoted to chief -- said the 
city is anti-police and withheld needed resources and manpower. He did not 
immediately return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

   City data dating to 2015 shows that when police officers use force, 60% of 
the time the person they're dealing with is black, though only 20% of the 
population is black.

   Belton, of the Urban League, called the culture of the department "toxic."

   "They're still within a culture and system designed to serve and protect 
white people from black people ... and to protect officers in blue from 
repercussions," he said.

   The Minnesota Department of Human Rights filed civil rights charges related 
to Floyd's death and will investigate the Minneapolis Police Department to 
determine if it has engaged in discriminatory practices, Gov. Tim Walz said 
this week.

   Fletcher said he wants to examine whether the police department should be 
disbanded, saying he believes it's "so broken it can't be fixed."

   "I think we need to rebuild from the ground up," said Fletcher, vice chair 
of the city's public safety committee. He suggested policing duties could be 
contracted to other police agencies until changes are in place and Arradondo 
might be part of that planning.

   The idea isn't as radical as it might sound, especially because police now 
are expected to respond to incidents involving things like drug addiction and 
mental health issues that they weren't necessarily trained for, said Christy 
Lopez, a Georgetown University professor who has led police department 
investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere.

   And to assume that "the buck stops with the chief" in all cases might not be 
realistic, she said.

   "A well-meaning, strong police chief is necessary but not sufficient, 
because a chief can't be everywhere at once" and might have monetary, staffing 
and political pressures to deal with, Lopez said, adding that Arradondo seems 
to have responded appropriately to Floyd's death.

   What's more, some cities have entered into contracts with police unions in 
which officers traded higher wages for better job security in instances of 
alleged misconduct, she said.

   Bob Bennett, an attorney who said he has sued the department "hundreds" of 
times over police misconduct allegations, said Arradondo probably did the best 
he could, but the union has more sway than chiefs do over police conduct.

   "I know he wants to reform the department as much as anyone I've ever met or 
seen," Bennett said. "Hopefully this whole mess will bring about some change."

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