The Minneapolis Police Department will withdraw from police union contract negotiations, Chief Medaria Arradondo said Wednesday, as he announced initial steps in what he said would be transformational reforms to the agency in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Faced with calls from activists and a majority of City Council members to dismantle or defund the department, Arradondo also said he would use a new system to identify problem officers and intervene if there are early warning signs of trouble.
“We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart,” he told reporters during a news conference more than two weeks after Floyd died after a white officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Activists have pointed to racial inequities and brutality, as well as a system that refuses to discipline problem officers. The officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, had 17 complaints against him and had been disciplined only once.
Arradondo said issued of racism need to be addressed head on and that a first step in making changes would be a thorough review of the union contract. He said it’s debilitating for a chief when an officer does something that calls for termination, but the union works to keep that person on the job, and on the street.
Advisers will look for ways to restructure the contract to provide more transparency and flexibility, he said. The review will look at critical incident protocols, use of force, and disciplinary protocols, including grievances and arbitration, among other things.
“This work must be transformational, but I must do it right,” Arradondo said.
The current police union contract expired on Dec. 31 but remains in effect until there is a new one, according to the city’s website.
Messages left with union President Bob Kroll were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey supported the chief’s decisions.
“Additional accountability between the people and the police needs to be matched with internal ability to closely monitor police behaviour and intervene early to prevent more tragedy,” Frey said in a statement.
Arradondo sidestepped a question about whether he thought Kroll, often seen as an obstacle to changes, should step down. He also didn’t directly answer a question about whether citizens should worry about a slowdown in police response time as a pushback against attempts to transform the department. Some City Council members have said in the past that their wards saw such slowdowns when they complained about police action.