An open letter from Mayor Betsy Hodges to the communities of Minneapolis

Thank you for the open letter of September 26 that you sent me. I welcome the series of respectful, thoughtful requests about how to move forward together and I very much appreciate the constructive ideas that you have put forward. I was encouraged to note that text accompanying a request for signatures on the letter referred to the letter’s “pragmatic approach” to “improved police–community relations,” calling it “something that we can all get behind, so we can get onto the same page and work together for a better Minneapolis.”

I thank you for your commitment to that goal. I share it wholeheartedly.

Allow me to begin with my vision for Minneapolis.

My vision for Minneapolis is of a city where every harmful gap in outcomes that are worse for people of color than for white people is eliminated. Every one of them.

My vision for Minneapolis is of a city whose growth includes everyone and every community, not just some communities.

My vision for Minneapolis is of a city that runs well for everyone and every neighborhood, not just some neighborhoods.

The three pillars of this vision — eliminating gaps based in race and place, growing inclusively, and running the city well for everyone — guide me every day.

Running the city well for everyone means making sure that every resident of Minneapolis feels safe and is safe, in every neighborhood. Hundreds of police officers serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make neighborhoods across our city stronger. But not all do: some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it. Minneapolis has, and has had, officers like that. These officers do not represent a majority of the department, but their behavior disrupts community trust for all officers in the community. When left unchecked, their behavior fosters a culture inside the department that gives a shove downward to police and community relationships. When that culture exists, good cops face even more hurdles to fostering a positive culture and bad cops have even more room to maneuver, and the downward spiral continues. This is why it is so important to check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.

Every leader must acknowledge that this history and this culture in Minneapolis have made the goal of true community safety a challenge to reach. We must also acknowledge the pain and anger in community about it. If part of our community does not feel safe calling the police, if people do not report a crime or come forward as witnesses because they do not feel safe in relationship with the police, then nowhere in our city, and none of us, is safe.

This is why over many years, including eight years on the City Council, I have worked to improve police accountability and police–community relations. I have fought to strengthen civilian review of police misconduct and to create accountability measures for police chiefs that include racial equity, the incidence of misconduct, and effective discipline. While on the City Council, I voted against the reappointment of former Chief Dolan, based on issues of community relationships and management. I called publicly for early intervention systems for cops, and for the legal and contractual authority to impose stronger sanctions on officers who engage in misconduct. And as mayor, I have proposed to invest several million dollars next year and beyond to improve accountability and trust. My budget puts our money where my and our city’s values are.

Below is the vision and platform for police accountability that has guided my work over time, and guides me as mayor. It reflects my values, my history, and my determination to eliminate racial disparities, to transform the parts of police culture that perpetuate disparities, and to continue to build a department that looks like our city and is responsive to and respectful of all our cultures and communities.

My vision and goals are to:

  • Partner with Minneapolis schools, community-based organizations and others to actively recruit a diverse and engaged pool of applicants for Police Department positions.
  • Make sure that the criteria that we use to hire new officers and form Community Service Officer, Cadet, and Police Recruit classes reflect our community’s deeply-held values around public safety and respect, among others.
  • Not tolerate racist speech and actions on the force.
  • Support the Chief’s work to enforce that expectation and build community trust.
  • Improve the Police Department’s early-warning systems to identify and help officers address problems before they turn into officer misconduct.
  • Strengthen the City’s ability to track and punish poor conduct and proven patterns of misconduct, including by negotiating changes to the contract with the Police Federation that will make it easier to enact appropriate discipline swiftly.
  • Improve citizens’ and police officers’ ability to file complaints about misconduct without reprisal.
  • Charge and empower City staff to work with the police and the community to increase positive relationships and root out systemic problems.

This has been for many years the core of my views and actions about police accountability. Last year, I was the one who put these issues at the center of the campaign for mayor, and I had the privilege of engaging with people in communities across our city about them for a full year. And since January, when I have had the privilege of serving as mayor, I have been able to work every day on closing gaps and increasing equity, including by making significant investments in the City’s budget to accomplish that goal. Honest and healthy police–community relations, a police force that looks like our community, and conduct that rises every day rises to our collective standards, is at the heart of making Minneapolis a truly equitable city.

As I said earlier, your letter offered constructive ideas that I am pleased to respond to and build upon below.

Culture change in the department

The letter asked that “drastic steps be taken to address the culture within MPD that leads to negative police/community relations.” As I have said, I agree that culture change is essential. It will help end the disparities and behaviors that hold community, and all of us, back. It will encourage and bolster the many positive actions and attitudes that a majority of police officers already bring to the work. Culture change will turn a downward spiral into a virtuous cycle. Even though by definition, culture change is long-term work, we must act on the urgency that we feel now to bring it about.

Chief Harteau herself — as a woman and a person of color who has made a career in the Minneapolis Police Department, who once won a discrimination complaint against the department and won changes in policy and training as a result, and who has risen against long odds to set many firsts in leading the department — knows from deep personal experience about the urgent need for culture change. I support the chief who shares our commitment to and vision for it.

Below are some of the steps that are already in progress to create culture change, in the areas of community accountability, training and people. While there is more to be done, and I welcome your feedback on that score, these measure mark a strong commitment to change.

Accountability to community

Body cameras for officers. I am proud to support body cameras for all officers: they are an essential tool for holding officers accountable for their behavior, making corrections when necessary, and building community trust. When there are questions about an interaction, a body camera can exonerate or indict either party, and evidence from other cities bears that out. For this reason, I have proposed spending more than $1 million over the next two years to purchase and implement them, keeping a campaign promise that I made.

Below, I will provide more details about the status of body cameras, and will respond to the letter’s request for community input on them.

Firing officers who do not meet our standards for their behavior. Since becoming chief less than two years ago, Chief Harteau has fired six officers for misconduct, These are officers who have not met our city’s standards for behavior. This is a remarkable number for such a short period, especially considering that firing officers for misconduct is very challenging legally and contractually. But it is good for community and it is good for the hundreds of officers who do their jobs well every day. I support the Chief’s firing officers when their behavior warrants it.

Training

Chief Harteau has required training in Fair and Impartial Policing for every member of the Minneapolis Police Department. This training teaches officers how inherent biases can affect decision-making and strengthens their skills to do their jobs in an unbiased and impartial manner. She has also required training for commanders and supervisors on how to help officers develop practices of accountability.

People

Commitment to a department that looks like our community. Currently, the Minneapolis Police Department is slightly over 20% sworn officers of color, including Chief Janeé Harteau and several of her top command staff. That percentage is higher than it has ever been — and it is not nearly good enough in a city that is 40% people of color. I am committed to increasing dramatically the percentage of officers of color. To that end, I have committed about $1 million more per year on an ongoing basis to hire more community service officers (CSOs). In recent years, classes of CSOs have been 50% people of color or more, and they have proven one of the best pipelines for people of color to become sworn officers.

Community policing. I have also committed $1 million more in next year’s budget to support community policing, which is centered around building personal relationships of trust that foster respectful behavior and interactions. To support this goal, Chief Harteau has restructured police patrols across the city to get officers out of cars and on foot in community.

Officers’ treating residents as they expect family to be treated. In Chief Harteau’s first two months as chief, she instituted her MPD 2.0 initiative, which is a stem-to-stern revamping of standards of conduct, training and accountability in the department. In meetings that every sworn and civilian employee of the department was required to attend, Chief Harteau personally laid out her expectation that Minneapolis police officers operate by one guiding principle in every encounter with the public, no matter how seemingly small: “Did my actions reflect how I would expect a family member to be treated?”

These are among the steps to create culture change that are already underway. There is more to do, and your input and ideas are essential: I encourage you to share with me your ideas for how we can support, amplify and improve on this work.

Audit

The letter also asks for “an audit of MPD by a credible, third-party entity to review departmental structure, the effectiveness of internal affairs and the civilian review process, along with departmental policies.”

This is a request that we have taken to heart. In the fall of 2013, in response to the community, Chief Harteau asked the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) of the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an independent review of the Minneapolis Police Department’s oversight and discipline process. The goal of the review was to improve standards of police accountability, better manage police oversight and discipline, and prevent misconduct. The independent review process began in January of this year, during which OJP conducted in-depth interviews with 23 community stakeholders — half the total of those interviewed — along with elected officials and leaders in law enforcement, and reviewed department policy and history.

Following a 9-month-long review process, the Department of Justice previewed their draft findings to City leaders and community stakeholders earlier today.

OJP noted several strengths in our police department:

  • Chief Harteau’s realigning and reorganizing the department is moving in the right direction, and is shifting department culture toward accountability and transparency.
  • Increased collaboration between residents and police is improving the police conduct review process, and bringing more accountability and transparency to it.
  • The department’s new community-outreach strategies are starting to prove effective.
  • There is alignment around these goals between elected leaders and department leadership that is unique among cities of our size.

OJP stressed that it takes time in any police department for changes like these to take root in the department and be felt in community.

At the same time, OJP found that the most commonly reported types of officer misconduct are lack of respect, unprofessional language or tone, and lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

The draft recommendations are that MPD should:

  • Develop a new, prevention-oriented Early Intervention System, in partnership with community, for officers who show signs of going down the wrong path, and provide a broad range of interventions.
  • Strengthen coaching for officers about their behavior and integrate it with the new Early Intervention System.
  • Heighten transparency in the complaint process, and make more data about it available to community.
  • Improve community relations by integrating model practices into community policing and expanding community engagement.
  • Improve communications about the police conduct and oversight process.

The next step is that the Department of Justice will take the feedback that they heard from community stakeholders earlier today and will return with final recommendations in 4-6 weeks. Once we have received those final recommendations, we will begin the process of working with stakeholders to implement them.

Quarterly progress reports

The letter also requested “quarterly progress reports to the community on issues such as increasing diversity within MPD, the rates of low-level arrests, the number and types of police misconduct complaints, and the number of police misconduct lawsuits being settled along with dollar amounts.”

This is a good idea, and I am pleased to commit to regular reporting on these or related issues. We are doing our homework to determine what information is currently available. I commit to giving you an answer in a month about how we will move forward, and welcome concrete suggestions about content and format.

Input on body cams

The letter also asked for “community input about policies, implementation and practices about officer body cameras by MPD.” This is another good idea that I would like to implement. Allow me first to provide an update on the current status of officer body cams.

Last month, the City Council and I approved contracts with two vendors to purchase police body cameras for the testing and evaluation phase of the body camera project. The pilot is expected to begin in November and last at least six months. It will allow us to select one vendor as well as gather information needed to ensure effective implementation of the full program, starting in 2015.

The department is in the process of acquiring the cameras and installing the supporting hardware and software. The 36 officers from the First, Fourth and Fifth Precincts who have volunteered to participate in the test phase will receive training for these new devices and software before the pilot begins. The standard operating procedure is also being developed and will be made public. Chief Harteau will present on status and plans for body cams to the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) on October 14, just before one of our upcoming community forums.

Going forward, we will work with community to establish an input and engagement process that would begin once we have collected and are ready to review the data from the pilot program. Those data are what will be used to create policies and procedures for the full roll-out of the program, and community input at the stage will be the most effective and have the most impact.

In the meantime, I welcome your comments and feedback. My email address is betsy@minneapolis.org and my phone number is (612) 673-2100.

Apology

Finally, the letter asked for an apology from Chief Harteau or me for her not attending the last forum, and for language she used to describe her decision. On September 26, Chief Harteau offered an apology, saying, “When I described my decision not to attend last week’s listening session, I have learned some people were offended by my comments, and I apologize for them. As a Chief of Police who has worked for decades to help make our city stronger, it was never my intent to imply anything less than my full respect for all of our City’s diverse communities, and the great value that they create every single day in Minneapolis.” I welcome these words to the community, and know that the Chief intended no offense.

Steps in progress

To summarize, these are the steps in progress:

  • Body cameras
    • Pilot program to begin this fall
    • Standard operating procedure being drafted, to be made public
    • Chief Harteau presenting to PCOC on October 14
    • City Council to vote in December on Mayor’s proposal for $1 million in funding
    • Community input on data from pilot program
  • Department of Justice audit
    • Receiving stakeholder feedback on draft recommendations for implementing early-intervention system, better officer coaching, greater transparency, enhanced community engagement and improved communication
    • Final recommendations delivered in 4–6 weeks
  • Community policing
    • Underway; City Council to vote in December on Mayor’s proposal to fund more officers for community policing
  • Fair and Impartial training for officers
    • Underway
  • Quarterly progress reports
    • Draft outline of content and format within one month
  • Hiring officers that look like community
    • Ongoing
  • Chief empowered to fire officers who do not meet standards for behavior
    • Ongoing

Now the work continues. I know that the recent conflict is partly about the police chief’s not attending a forum or the language she used to talk about it — and I know it runs deeper than that. It is about the hurt around other incidents involving police and community in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. It is about a history in this department of sometimes harmful police-community relations that I have worked to improve for years, and that now, as mayor, I am determined to shed as we move forward into something new and better. It is about the people — mothers and fathers, neighbors, and children — that we all know who have suffered from this history. It is about communities made less safe as a result. It is about Rodney King, about Trayvon, about Ferguson, about deep outrage and sorrow that we have all felt. It is about the deep inequities in our city, and about who we choose to be as a community in response to it. It is about all of us.

I have outlined above many of the tools that I have as mayor to make the change we all wish to see regarding the police department. These tools include the platform that has guided me for years. They include the investments I have made in my budget and the progress that we have made on several fronts this year. They include the will, skill, and talent of hundreds of police officers who do want to do right by the community. They most especially include community: the progress-focused ideas you have communicated, the grassroots energy and ideas you have shared with me for many years, the resiliency and determination to build better relations and a better city. We have much of what we need to move forward together.

In short, we share a common goal, and we share the will to get it done.

In addition to sharing the goal and the will, I also ask that we share good will. If you see me, or the chief of police, or anyone else in a position of responsibility, taking steps with which you disagree — steps that you think will not work as intended, or may unintentionally set us back — I invite you to assume first that I have misunderstood or made a mistake along the road to the goal that we all share. Out of that assumption, I invite you to approach me first in that spirit of good will, connection, and conversation. I offer the reaching out of my hand, an open ear, and an open inbox as a way to the outcomes that we all want to see. As mayor, and as a human being, it is my intent to assume good will and common purpose in you. I invite you to assume the same in me.

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your deep commitment, which I share, to the city that we all want. Together we can, and will, create a stronger Minneapolis.

Betsy Hodges

10-8-14 Open Letter from Mayor Betsy Hodges to the communities of Minneapolis

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About Mayor Betsy Hodges

I am the 47th mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, sworn in on January 2, 2014. Prior to becoming mayor, I served on the Minneapolis City Council for eight years as the representative of Ward 13. On the Council, I served as chair of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee. Before running for public office, I was an organizer, working for TakeAction Minnesota and the Minnesota Justice Foundation. I also helped found a program in Albuquerque, New Mexico to get HIV-positive women the help and resources that they needed. My husband, Gary Cunningham, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) and a member of the Metropolitan Council. We have two children, four grandchildren, a dog and a slightly neurotic cat. In my spare time, I work on staying physically fit, writing, reading poetry and enjoying seasonal viewings of “Die Hard,” my favorite movie. I have an extensive collection of Wonder Woman memorabilia, and am an occasional karaoke singer with a limited range.

5 thoughts on “An open letter from Mayor Betsy Hodges to the communities of Minneapolis

  1. Very nice words and I do hope there is real meaning and actions behind them. However, until we actually start to see some better results and actions, as a resident, I will continue to demand better.

    I would like to see a stop of the instant defense of officers in the news. There should always be a time of investigation before a blanket defense is put out.
    As a gay man, I would consider Chief Harteau as part of my GLBT family. It pains me to say that her apology letter is not enough for her shocking actions with the listening meetings. While I do not think she should be fired as she is making some changes for the better after reading the Federal OJP review, I want to see some better actions out of the police.

  2. On September 26, Chief Harteau offered an apology, saying, “When I described my decision not to attend last week’s listening session, I have learned some people were offended by my comments, and I apologize for them.”

    That is not an apology. That is what someone says who thinks they are in the right and others are being overly sensitive. An apology is say, “I was wrong. I apologize for my offensive actions.”

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