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Minneapolis Pauses Contract Talks With Police Union Over Officers' Accountability

People attend the procession of a horse-drawn carriage bringing the body of George Floyd for burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, Texas, on Tuesday.
Johannes Eisele
AFP via Getty Images
People attend the procession of a horse-drawn carriage bringing the body of George Floyd for burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in Pearland, Texas, on Tuesday.

The chief of police in Minneapolis is launching another effort to reform the city's beleaguered department in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, taking aim at a union contract that many critics say protects officers who engage in misconduct or use excessive force.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is pulling out of contract negotiations with the police union to focus instead on implementing reforms and accountability measures that he promises will be "transformational," while at the same time, looking for ways to restructure the contract.

In making the announcement, Arradondo acknowledged that there are "crippled relationships" between the police and communities of color in the city that have eroded trust in the police force.

"What our city needs now more than ever is a pathway and a plan that provides hope, reassurance, and actionable measures of reform," Arradondo said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the changes.

Arradondo says he needs to step back from the table and get input from outside advisors and experts to look at ways the contract can be restructured to provide greater transparency for the community and greater flexibility to make meaningful reforms.

"This work must be transformational, but I must do it right," he said and cautioned that it could take time.

As in other cities, many Minneapolis residents have long complained of union rules in police contracts that they say protect bad cops, especially those who engage in racial discrimination and the unnecessary use excessive force.

Arradondo says he wants to examine contract provisions covering critical incident protocols, use of force, and the disciplinary process, including grievances and arbitration.

"There is nothing more debilitating to a chief from an employment matter perspective, than when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you're dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee to not only be back at your department, but to be patrolling in your communities."

Born and raised in Minneapolis and a city police officer for more than 30 years, Arradondo rose through the ranks to become the city's first African American police chief in 2017. In Wednesday's news conference, he reminded reporters that he and several other black officers filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the department more than a decade ago, and said police and political leaders can no longer shy away from confronting racial bias in policing.

"Race is inextricably a part of the American policing system," he said. "We will never evolve in this profession if we don't address it head on. Communities of color have paid the heaviest of costs, and that's with their lives. And our children must be safeguarded from ever having to be treated to the horrific and shameful chapter in this country's history."

Arradondo's predecessor as police chief, Janee Harteau, and the city's mayor, Jacob Frey, among others, have often complained that the police union has worked to block departmental reforms. Frey praised Arradondo's announcement Wednesday, saying in a series of tweets, "I applaud the Chief's courage (and) his resolve to challenge the status quo."

"We don't just need a new contract with the police," Frey tweeted. "We need a new compact between the people of Minneapolis and the people trusted to protect and serve – and we need to go farther than we ever have in making sweeping structural reform."

Frey elaborated on those thoughts in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered Wednesday, amid calls by many in the city to defund and dismantle the police department.

"I am for major structural reform in terms of how our police department operates. We need to entirely shift the culture that has for years failed black and brown people," Frey said in the interview. "But am I for abolishing the police department? No, I'm not. I think it's a bad idea."

It's not exactly clear what the impact of the city walking away from the bargaining table will be. Contract talks have been in a holding pattern for months, stopping at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Minneapolis police officers have been working under the terms of an expired contract. Negotiations were expected to resume in the late spring or summer but now appear to be indefinitely on hold.

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David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.