This afternoon I joined Chief Harteau and other City leaders in a press conference at City Hall regarding this morning’s release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s after-action report of the Fourth Precinct Occupation. That report can be found here: https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-w0836-pub.pdf
My full remarks from the press conference follow.
A little more than one year ago, Chief Harteau and I requested that the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in the administration of President Barack Obama conduct an independent after-action review of the City of Minneapolis’ response to the 18-day occupation of the grounds, vestibule, and street in front of the Fourth Precinct police station that took place in November and December of 2015.
As I said a year ago when we requested the report, we wanted a respected, experienced source outside the City to tell us what went well and where we could have done better. We asked them to conduct a thorough, independent review inside and outside the City, one that included talking to a wide variety of stakeholders, which I insisted include community members. We did so because we did not want to let this important moment in the life of our city, one rooted in tragedy, pass without our learning everything that there was to learn from it. We did so because we are committed to continuous improvement and to transparency.
One year later, the after-action review that we asked for is back for all of us to see. The Department of Justice released it this morning.
The occupation of the Fourth Precinct followed the tragic death of Jamar Clark. Allow me to express once again my deepest condolences to his family for their terrible loss, which continues to be a loss that our entire city feels. The occupation itself was also one of the most searing events in recent memory in Minneapolis. No one in Minneapolis — indeed, no city in America — had been through anything like it before, and no city has been through anything like it since, and God willing no city will have to go through again.
Throughout the occupation, our top goal at the City was to keep all the people of Minneapolis safe: demonstrators, officers, neighbors, residents, everyone. I woke up every day of those 18 days asking myself, what needs to happen today to keep all the people of Minneapolis safe? Am I willing to do what is needed, regardless of personal convenience or comfort, to make sure people stay safe? I went to bed every day of those 18 days asking myself, did we keep all the people of Minneapolis safe?
The hardest moments for me were when people — demonstrators and officers both — were in harm’s way, or when I feared for health and safety of neighbors as the occupation wore on. The worst moment for me — and I am certain for everyone — was when demonstrators were shot outside the precinct by a white supremacist.
What went well
I am proud to say that the report says that by and large, we came through this experience well. In need of healing, for certain, but far better than most other cities, with very few arrests, no serious injuries from police–demonstrator interactions that we know of, and no damage to private property — and all in the course of an unprecedented event of unprecedented length that no other city and no other people have been through before or since. We didn’t do things perfectly and certainly made mistakes, which I will get to shortly, but by and large, as a people and as a city, we came through this well.
Overall, the report notes that “City leaders and MPD officials worked to maintain the First Amendment rights of demonstrators while ensuring their safety, the safety of police officers, and the safety of the community as a whole,” in what it calls “a difficult national environment.” In the end, the report notes that we succeeded at this: the city “brought the occupation to a peaceful conclusion and avoided the civil disturbances that occurred in other cities.” The report notes that we achieved this end through a strategy of “negotiated management,” which it says is consistent with emerging current best practices and the recommendations of President Obama’s taskforce on 21st-century policing, which we as a city and a police department have been implementing. Quoting the report again, “The commitment of the city, the police department, and individual officers to a peaceful, measured response played a large role in keeping the occupation from escalating into violent riots.”
In other words, in one of the hardest, most challenging moments that we have lived through in recent decades, when people were in great pain, we succeeded overall in balancing people’s First Amendment right to peaceful protest with the need to keep people safe and our city safe.
This happened for many reasons, one of which the report highlights: that “officers throughout the MPD demonstrated extraordinary resilience and professionalism in their response to the occupation.” I agree entirely, and know Chief Harteau does as well. I saw first-hand the professionalism that officers maintained despite the great personal toll that the occupation took on so many of them, and I commend and thank them for it.
Another reason that Minneapolis got through this well is the patience and restraint that demonstrators and community members also showed. Despite many difficult moments during those 18 days, the vast majority of demonstrators stayed focused on achieving their goals peacefully. As a result, during those 18 days, there were countless unheralded acts of communication and cooperation among and between demonstrators, police officers and leadership, neighbors, elected officials, advocates, community leaders, and others that also played an important role in keeping everyone and our city safe.
I extend my personal gratitude, and offer the gratitude of our entire city, to everyone who worked hard to respect each other’s rights and keep our people and our city safe.
What we could have done better
We asked for this report to find out not only what went well, but what we could have done better. The report offers that, as well: it came back with criticism and a number of recommendations for improvement, which we take seriously. Among them are:
- Our response to the occupation was not rigorously structured, and was not well coordinated among elected officials and law enforcement.
- Our strategy for ending the occupation peacefully through negotiated management was not clear or well communicated to others, including line officers.
- Inconsistent and sometimes contradictory public statements from various leaders made it harder to resolve the occupation.
- Sharing of information internally was inconsistent, and sometimes deliberately thwarted.
- Uses of non-lethal force should have been individually tracked and documented.
- Officers were well trained in some crowd-management tactics but were not adequately trained in others, and crowd-management policies need to be revisited and updated.
As a result of these findings and recommendations, we now have much more clarity about:
- How to plan for and better coordinate the management of an uncertain and protracted situation like this;
- The kind of training and support our officers need to manage and be resilient through a situation like this;
- The kinds of policies and procedures that need to be in place, then followed;
- And how better to communicate both internally and externally about our goals and the strategies we are pursuing to reach them.
The report also reinforces the fact that we need leaders in our precincts who will faithfully execute direct orders, and who will deliver the same clear and consistent messages to officers, community members, and City leaders. Unfortunately, this was not the case with key precinct leadership during the occupation. When we learned of it later, we took steps to correct the issues.
While this report makes many recommendations, which we will consider very closely, it falls short of making others. For example, when it comes to police–community relationships, I am pleased that the report essentially recommends that we should continue good work that we have already been doing. I also know that we can do more. Similarly, while the report rightly addresses the need to support officer wellness and resilience, it is silent on community wellness and resilience, which we had already taken the initiative to address. That’s not acceptable to me. For these reasons, I will be reaching out to community members myself to listen to what they think of this report, and to ask what else we can do.
For me personally, the report’s findings about communications that were unclear, inconsistent, or incomplete are ones that I take to heart.
In the months after the occupation ended, I sat down to talk with dozens of people about it, some who agreed with decisions I had made, and many who did not. What I heard consistently was that my communication during the occupation came up short. It became clear to me that people did not understand at the time, and that many have not understood since, that my goal was to keep our city and all our people safe, that I wanted to make sure that demonstrators’ constitutional right to express their grief, demands, and anger safely was honored and protected, and that I was pursuing a strategy of negotiated management to end the occupation peacefully in a way that kept the conversation going.
That misunderstanding is on me, not on anyone else. I am aware that at that moment, the people of Minneapolis — all of us — needed to hear from me more clearly, more frequently, and more consistently. My communication fell short. Regardless of whether it because I lacked the bandwidth, I was constrained for legal reasons, or I simply lacked the skill, I did not communicate in a way that would have helped the situation go better, and I am sorry.
I know from making amends in my personal life that it’s not enough merely to say that I am sorry. I also get to make living amends. For me, I have already taken steps to improve my communication with the community and with media. I have reorganized resources in my office and with my staff to make a difference in communications with individuals, groups, and the media and I am doing my best to be more rigorous in outreach and information-sharing. It is a wheel to which I am consciously putting my shoulder every day, and I will continue to work to improve.
A catalytic moment
The occupation of the Fourth Precinct was, as I said, a searing moment for our city. It was also a catalytic moment. It was a moment that we at the City used to move further, faster, and in some cases differently toward 21st-century policing and transforming police–community relations. This work includes, but is by no means limited to:
- Accelerating procedural-justice and implicit-bias training for all MPD officers in the immediate aftermath of the occupation.
- Completing crisis-intervention training for all officers by the end of 2016.
- Making it easier to file and track complaints of police misconduct.
- Winning a five-year, $5-million federal grant to address trauma and build resiliency and equity in communities that have experienced civil unrest related to law enforcement.
- Investing significantly more resources into community policing, a recommendation of this report.
- Accelerating the work of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to begin monthly empathy and healing sessions between the community and Chief Harteau, work no other city is doing.
- Enhancing MPD policy around de-escalation, sanctity of life, duty to report, and duty to intervene.
- Completing the rollout of body-worn cameras on all police officers that respond to 911 calls.
- Apologizing to the signatories of the 2003 mediation agreement between the community and MPD for work not done; and
- Negotiating a contract between the City and the Police Officers’ Federation that is a big step forward in creating a citywide culture of accountability.
The work I have been doing to move this agenda forward has not been limited to Minneapolis. Tomorrow, I will be in Washington, D.C. to help release a resource guide, tailored specifically to mayors, to handling police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. This guide was created on a recommendation that I made shortly after the Fourth Precinct occupation to Cities United, a national movement of nearly 90 partner cities to reduce violence that affects African American men and boys and lift them up as assets. I made the recommendation because I knew that I was not the first mayor to wish she had had a guide of best practices to follow in an officer-involved shooting, and that I would not be the last.
I’m happy to see that this guide, which will be released tomorrow, offers a clear and concise set of actions that mayors can take not only after a critical incident, but before one happens as well, to help community, officers, and residents alike be heard, informed, consulted, and respected, and to help our cities remain united. It is another contribution that Minneapolis is making to the national conversation around policing and police–community relationships in the 21st century.
Chief Harteau and I asked for this report. We asked the Department of Justice of the Obama Administration to take an experienced, thorough, independent look at what we did and did not do in response to the occupation. We asked that they talk to as many stakeholders as they could — especially, at my insistence, in community. And we asked that they come back and share with our entire city their unvarnished findings and recommendations for all of us to inspect. This they have done today, and I thank them for it.
We take this report seriously, both in its praise and in its criticism. The conclusions we can draw from it hew to what we already know: if we are to build trust between the MPD and our communities, we have to address our challenges head on. The Chief and I have demonstrated our willingness and ability to do that, and our willingness to look ourselves squarely in the eye and ask, “Where can we do better?,” and listen — and change — when the answers come. We are joined by a strong, active community committed to coming together for the common good, and by police and city leadership willing to do the difficult work of actual systems change, which takes time, energy, and commitment.
I look forward to consulting with all stakeholders, including police officers and community members, about how best to take advantage of all that there is to learn from this report, and how to do better as a result. This marks the beginning of a new phase of our shared community project.