Hamstrung: How the MPD's federal mediation agreement has failed

Categories: Minneapolis

Community rep blames communication breakdown with the MPD on the Mayor

There continues to be fallout from the removal two weeks ago of MPD Lt. Medaria Arradondo from the federal mediation talks. The federal mediation agreement, signed and approved by the city council nearly two years ago, came about after community leaders contacted the Department of Justice over MPD policing practices.

Since the agreement was signed, there have been monthly neetings between police personnel and a panel of community representatives called the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC). By all accounts Arradondo, the MPD's point person, was a negotiator skilled bringing boths sides together.

Outrage over his removal peaked on Wednesday, when the city council chambers were packed with community activists during a Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee meeting--a PCRC update was on the agenda. During the meeting, it became clear that the removal of Arradondo wasn't the only problem in complying with the federal mediation agreement.

"The talk of the day was that there hasn't been enough funding to follow through with anything outlined in the agreement," contends Mark Anderson, a "mental health" community rep on the PCRC. "It wasn't about what the police hadn't been doing, it was about how they hadn't been doing anything at all."

The agreement, brokered by DOJ rep Patricia Campbell Glenn, details many things the MPD must do to satisfy the community: Mental health training, outreach to communities of color, diversifying the police force. When it was signed, many on both sides wondered if it was too tall of an order--a very ambitious agreement in an era of shriking police budgets. Turns out those fears were founded.

But, according to Anderson, any concerns expressed to city hall have been rebuked or ignored. MPD Deputy Chief Don Harris, not Chief Bill McManus, gave the update to the council committee on Wednesday, again saying that police budgets enacted by the city council had made following the letter of the mediation agreement nearly impossible.

But Anderson doesn't place blame with the chief. The chief reports directly to the mayor, he points out, and R.T. Rybak, according to Anderson, has "been disengaged from the whole process."

"We haven't seen leadership from the city at all," Anderson continues, adding that the PCRC wrote a letter to Rybak earlier this year detailing concerns that the mediation agreement was going nowhere. "We didn't hear back for two months."

In the past, Rybak has said that he didn't think too much about the concept of federal mediation, and did little three years ago to move city leaders or then-Chief Robert Olson toward signing any agreement. McManus has said he keeps a copy on his desk and consults it often, but clearly his budget has other priorities.

The upshot is that the city could soon run afoul of the DOJ if differences aren't smoothed over. Anderson says that the original mediator, Campbell Glenn, came to town to negotiate with both sides in August--three years after she first came to Minneapolis. Grievances were aired, but it wasn't clear what action Campbell Glenn might take.

There are "sanctions," Anderson notes, that could be placed on the mayor or the chief or even city department heads if the lack of follow through on the agreement continues. In that case, the DOJ might oversee parts of the MPD--a process known as "receivership"--until there is compliance.

"But that's not something anybody wants," Anderson says. "We'd rather the city try to fulfill its end of the agreement, so we can start addressing these intractable problems with the MPD. How can you approve an agreement and then not follow it?"

As for Rybak's general lack of interest, Anderson notes, "The world of police injustice and violence on the streets is not a world he lives in, so he just doesn't get it."

Apparently city hall apathy toward the agreement was more palatable to the commnunity thanks to the presence of Arradondo. He has been promoted to head the MPD's "STOP" patrol, an initiative of increased street policing mostly on the city's north side.

(Efforts to reach Arradando for two weeks have been unsuccessful. But as far back as May he remarked to me that things with the mediation agreement had "'gone bad," and that there was unrest and sniping on both sides. Also, reports have it that he heard about his ouster second-hand from his replacement, Lt. Larry Doyle.)

"It's a step up for him, but he was the most valuable person in this process," Anderson says. "He was truly a person of integrity, and he was respected by people on all sides of this issue."

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