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Police watchdog group says Minneapolis uses loophole to keep police misconduct from the public

Andy Mannix, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — One Minneapolis police officer made a reckless turn and caused a "preventable" car crash.

In a separate case, an officer failed to turn on his body camera while interviewing witnesses at a crime scene.

Another officer used "inappropriate language" toward a victim of domestic assault and then never wrote a report on the call.

In all of these cases of substantiated rule violations, the officers' supervisors opted for the same remedy: "coaching."

Coaching is a form of one-on-one mentoring that the Minneapolis Police Department uses to deal with low-level rule violations — so low, according to the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office, that it doesn't qualify as real discipline.

The distinction is significant. Under Minnesota law, disciplinary records for police officers must be made available to the public. The city classifies coaching records as private data.

 

But commissioners of a city-appointed police oversight panel say some of these incidents are not so minor, and they are questioning whether Minneapolis public officials use coaching as a loophole to keep police misconduct records away from the public eye.

In 2021, several members of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission say they will renew the push for the city attorney to reclassify these records as public in an effort to make the department more transparent. Coaching is by far the most common outcome for substantiated police misconduct, and making these records public would unlock hundreds of records containing detailed complaints against Minneapolis police officers. Summaries of several cases resulted in coaching, lacking key details and the names of the officers involved, were presented at a recent meeting of the oversight commission.

"Police aren't to be held to a lower standard of expectations. But yet they are," said Cynthia Jackson, a social worker recently appointed to the commission. "It's mind boggling to me."

The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment. In a recent letter to the police oversight commission, Assistant City Attorney Trina Chernos explained the office's position, describing coaching as "one of a few examples of nondisciplinary corrective actions any employer, including the MPD, might take."

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