Minneapolis gets grant for early intervention system for police officers

A computer program tracks a variety of characteristics to try to spot officers who could use help

By Liz Navratil
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis leaders are moving forward with a system to identify police officers with the potential for misconduct and head off problems with early intervention.

To pay for it, Mayor Jacob Frey wants to rely on a $700,000 grant from the Pohlad Family Foundations, which would also help cover the costs of getting new mental health response teams up and running.

During a committee meeting Wednesday, some City Council members raised concerns about the grant, saying both that it had bypassed normal city procedures and that they had rejected a similar proposal in the past.

"There should have been a moment for us to ask questions," said City Council Member Steve Fletcher, adding later: "I just think, on principle, we can't give up the very minimal level of oversight that we have."

The question of whether to buy an early intervention system has dogged the city for years. Supporters have argued it could help reduce violent incidents, while others have questioned whether there would be thorough follow-up to ensure the program is effective.

The computer programs track a variety of characteristics to try to spot officers who could use help. That could include statistics on use of force, sick time, complaints, and the nature of the calls they're handling.

"We want to make sure that we're mitigating risk before it gets to that point," Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a news conference Tuesday. "In any industry, we want to increase the performance of our employees."

In 2014, then-police chief Janeé Harteau asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Minneapolis police. One result was a recommendation that the city create a computer tracking system to identify potentially troublesome officers.

Police supervisors said in Wednesday's committee meeting that they do have an employee focusing on intervention work, but don't have the capacity a new system would provide and have fallen behind "best practice" standards for officer intervention.

Police performance: Developing a culture of accountability

Police performance: Developing a culture of accountability

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Frey proposed a program in his 2021 budget, but the council rejected that funding after some members raised concerns that past efforts hadn't come to fruition. The mayor said he asked his staff to keep looking for ways to pay for a program.

The city typically has to receive approval from council members before applying for large grants. That didn't happen in this case.

Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston interim city coordinator said staff learned about the grant only weeks before the May 14 deadline. Jared Jeffries, a Frey aide who participated in some of the early talks, said the situation was, "we either apply for this grant without going through council, or we don't apply at all."

Council President Lisa Bender questioned why they couldn't have received a public briefing then.

"There's just really no reason to shut the council out of something like this," she said. "I hope going forward that we can all regroup and work together on this important item."

The council's Policy & Government Oversight Committee voted Wednesday to approve the donation. A final vote is expected Friday.

[NEXT: Building an agency culture that embraces a duty to intervene]

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