Mayor Rybak’s rosy assessment not shared by all parties
On December 4, 2003, Unity Community Mediation and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) entered into an agreement that resulted in the formation of the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC). The council, made up of civilian members chosen by the community and police officers chosen by the MPD, meets monthly to discuss concerns about how law enforcement interacts with the community.
A September 12, 2007 press release from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak declared that the PCRC is “showing significant progress.” In the release, the mayor said, “I am pleased that the community and police PCRC members are working together, and I am confident that we will continue making progress on this important Agreement until every Action Item is satisfied.”
The “action items” referred to are the 120 issues that the community and the police department identified as concerns. Since mediation began in 2003, 38 of the 120 items have been resolved. PCRC is currently in the fourth year of its five-year mandate.
MPD Lieutenant Lawrence Doyle was assigned to the meditation compliance unit, which oversees the agreement from the police perspective, when he returned from a military deployment overseas. During an interview with the MSR, Doyle said he agrees that the PCRC is effectively addressing the issues based on the number of action items that are in “green” status.
One example of an issue that has attained green status is in the area of recruitment. At the October PCRC meeting, the police reported that they increased their overall level of diversity to 18 percent. According to their records dating back to 1984, this is the highest level of diversity that the department has ever achieved.
“We have a multicultural recruitment team, where the majority of officers that do our recruiting are diverse,” Doyle said. But the outcome, 18 percent, is not an impressive number in the eyes of all PCRC members.
“A hundred officers of color is not good enough,” PCRC community member Al Flowers said during the meeting. “We’ve got almost a thousand [police officers], and you still only have a hundred or so officers of color?”
MPD Police Chief Tim Dolan responded, “I just want to point out [that] you don’t get to 50 percent without first going past 18 percent. The ultimate goal is to match the diversity within the community. We still have to make it step by step.”
Although the level of diversity has been an ongoing issue during meetings, the police department could not produce documentation of the actual numbers. PCRC Co-chair Ron Edwards, a community member with an impressive knack not only for investigating information given by the police department, but also for recalling specific dates, documents and statutes, said to the MSR, “We are never given the right numbers.”
Edwards explains that when numbers are given to reflect the number of officers of color on the force, they are expressed in percentages. “[Percentages] look more impressive to the general inexperienced eye… [But] when you lose one [officer], your percentage can drop as much as two percentage points.”
Such is the case with Officer Lewis, an African American female officer about whom Edwards initiated a discussion in the meeting. According to Edwards, Lewis had been discharged a week and half ago, yet the police department denied knowing about her leaving the force.
Unlike Doyle, Edwards believes that the 38 green status items are not a clear indication of PCRC’s success, particularly when it relates to diversity within high-ranking offices.
“There were nine MPD personnel detailed for the position of sergeant about a week and a half ago,” Edwards said during the meeting. “And my understanding was [that] there was no…diversity as it pertains to race… Can anyone from the City side indicate what happened to…racial diversity in respect to the detailed sergeant?”
Dolan answered: “We’re detailing directly down the list [of candidates for the position]… Unlike the fire department…we cannot reach down on a list and pass over people on a list; we don’t have that ability.” Dolan further explained that the list was in contention by the Police Federation partly because of his attempts to increase the level of its diversity.
Edwards disputed the chief during the meeting, and during his MSR interview he said, “The statement that the chief made was an outright fabrication. It was a lie — not true.”
Edwards explained that in 1999, two Black officers, Barnes and Walker, had been promoted to sergeant, and the Federation challenged their appointments in court. The incident resulted in the compromise that the two Black officers would retain their position and a group of approximately nine White officers would be promoted to sergeant as well.
The ruling by the Civil Service Commission was that the head of the department would have the ability to reach down the list of candidates in order to increase diversity. Edwards says that this ruling hasn’t changed since 1999.
Recruiting and promoting were not the only concerns brought up by PCRC members. They also revisited an issue from the previous month on the environment within the department for African American officers.
Al Flowers proceeded with an issue not on the agenda, directing a statement to Civil Rights Department Director Michael Jordan, who attended the meeting as an observer. Flowers asked if African American officers had came to Jordon to discuss problems they had experienced within the police department, as Flowers had been told.
“If they did come to you and tell you that these things are going on in the police department, it’s your duty to open a civil rights investigation for [the] minority officers,” Flowers said.
“I’ll just simply say that I don’t know if duty’s the right word,” Jordan responded. “I have the discretion to do that. The Black officers didn’t come to me; I initiated the conversation with them, and there is no formal investigation ongoing at this time.”
Later Flowers added, “I want to put on record that I hope that whoever went down…that Mr. Jordan puts it in his heart — if it ain’t a duty — to open an investigation. [It would] be a disservice to those officers — a disservice to the Civil Rights Department — to not open an investigation.”
Considering the contention between the police department and members of the community, MSR asked both Doyle and Edwards if there had been previous discussion about officers living in the community that they serve.
During his MSR interview, Doyle said that he himself was raised in Minneapolis and is a current Minneapolis resident. Although he has no actual numbers, he says that he doesn’t believe that there are very many lieutenants that live in the city.
“My personal opinion is that officers should [live in the city],” he said. “But I don’t think it’s something that they should be forced to do, because it’s very tough to uphold. That doesn’t mean that some incentive couldn’t be provided, like in the form of additional promotional points or bonus money.”
Edwards said that this was an issue that was discussed years ago, but the community’s hands are tied in regards to the matter. “Years ago, the legislature gave the City of Minneapolis the authority to have its officers live outside the city of Minneapolis.” Edwards pointed out that Chief Dolan lives outside of the city of Minneapolis.
Members of the police force and community members are welcome to attend PCRC meetings. They are held monthly between 10 am and noon at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Avenue North. For additional information such as previous meeting minutes, a detailed list of the action items, and dates of upcoming meetings, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us and select “Police Department” under City Departments, then choose Federal Mediation Agreement.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Participants in the October PCRC meeting included PCRC Co-chair Ron Edwards.