THESE ARE CRITICAL TO ADDRESSING PUBLIC SAFETY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM.
The killing of Amir Locke during a no-knock warrant and the revelation that MPD continues to train its officers in “excited delirium” are two more consequences of a shocking absence of transparency and accountability. These tragic failures are an illustration of the need for a total course correction at all levels of government. We need a renewed commitment to absolute transparency and accountability from our public servants.
For over a decade Minneapolis police chiefs and mayors have promised reforms.
Countless press conferences touting these changes have been held in Minneapolis while many or most of these reforms have been quietly implemented by surrounding suburbs. If every promise by a Minneapolis mayor or police chief had been kept, the MPD would be a national model for best practices in policing.
In 2008 former Police Chief Meddario Arradando proposed reforms creating a deputy chief position to address institutional racism in the MPD. A cash settlement was approved, and no reforms were passed. In 2010 the City settled a civil suit following a death in custody resulting from a chokehold. The City promised to limit or ban chokeholds and to change training practices. For a decade the chokeholds continued unabated and in 2020 George Floyd was murdered. In 2014 the DOJ presented recommendations from a comprehensive audit of the MPD’s disciplinary practices. Citizen implementation teams were disbanded, and the report gathered dust. More recently city leaders vowed to change their approach to responses for mental health emergencies. Meanwhile, 21 metro cities quietly embedded social workers into their police departments. In Minneapolis, as in so many other places, the impassioned speeches continued but the change did not happen.
Given this sad history, the unfulfilled promises to limit no-knock warrants and end training in “excited delirium” should come as a surprise to no one. Once the speeches and the press conferences were over no one bothered to make sure any of these promised reforms actually happened. Fanfare and theatrics but little in the way of results – a description that sadly applies to much of our broken politics today.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we also heard false promises of increased transparency. We got the opposite. In 2020 amendments to the police conduct manual removed language requiring discipline for sustained violations and added language that “coaching” is not discipline. These policies had the practical effect of keeping vast troves of police disciplinary records from the public and they remain sealed today. Among the records unavailable to the public are records of any discipline received by Derek Chauvin for his violent assault on a fourteen-year-old child, a horrific civil rights violation for which he was never “disciplined.
It is easy for public officials to promise accountability and transparency. Actually practicing these critical traits, however, is much harder. There seems to be no reward for public servants or elected officials who shine the light on ugly truths or hold themselves accountable. Sound bites or social media clicks are far more rewarding – and much easier than doing the hard work of governing.
Rebuilding faith in criminal justice will take all of us, regardless of party or ideology.
It will require that we listen to all voices, ideas, and perspectives. Holding ourselves accountable means that we stop blaming “the other side” and realize that we are all in this together. Transparency means that all ideas are openly and fairly considered regardless of what labels may attach to them.
I seek the office of Hennepin County Attorney as a political independent. I have not worn a party label as a prosecutor for a quarter-century. I don’t intend to wear a party label as County Attorney. My job will be to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected, and we are kept safe – and to work with anyone that shares those goals.
I refuse to choose between two incomplete political narratives. One narrative is insensitive to public safety concerns and rejects accountability and deterrence. The other narrative is blind to the need for criminal justice reform and the need to address the root causes of crime. These challenges are difficult – solutions require nuance and compromise.
We need leadership – leadership that is independent, accountable, and transparent.
Nothing less is worthy of this moment.
Paul Ostrow is a former City Council President and currently an Anoka County Attorney. He is a candidate for Hennepin County Attorney.