Note: The following article is reprinted by permission of POLITICO LLC, and originally appeared on June 2, 2020.

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I Was the Mayor of Minneapolis and I Know Our Cops Have a Problem

Racism permeated the culture of the department. But there are ways to change that culture that other cities can copy.

By R.T. Rybak

The searing images from the past several nights of anger and violence in dozens of cities across the country have shocked and horrified the nation. But there is one image that we need to keep fixed in our minds, the one that started it all:

A human being, staring calmly off into the middle distance, while his knee slowly suffocates another human being.

Our repulsion should boil over as we realize that the white police officer, who took an oath to protect and serve that person on the ground, who is black, would not have acted so brutally if the man he was restraining were white. Until every one of us can see that image for what it is—an example of a two-tiered justice system that treats black and white people differently—we cannot move another inch forward. We need to acknowledge that on some level, every one of us had a role in keeping this inequity in place.

I’ll go first, because after living in Minneapolis all my life, covering the Minneapolis Police Department as a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter and, more directly, serving 12 years as mayor of this city, I should.

My own efforts to change a police department and its culture failed badly. That starts with appointing three different police chiefs who all made change but not enough. It includes attempts to diversify the force, to change practices in mental health and numerous efforts to work with individual officers on softening their approach so they could empathize more deeply with community. These failures will haunt me for the rest of my life, and it should. As each of us sees and acknowledges our own part it can be paralyzing. It was for me.

But I was heartened by something a colleague at the Minneapolis Foundation said to me the other day. Chanda Smith Baker grew up and raised a family as an African American in north Minneapolis, and for years has lead the Pillsbury United Communities. She has seen so many more of the consequences of our deep, endemic racism than I ever will. But as we surveyed the damage and pain in our community she said simply: “We have no choice but to act.”

So we are acting. Our foundation, which has been centered on racial equity for decades, is granting $1 million in the next few weeks to community-based solutions that strive for justice and healing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody. Knowing we need to have tough conversations about race and culture, we launched our “Conversations with Chanda” podcast that will give our community, which has avoided those tough conversations for too long, the space to “go there.”

Like everyone in this city, we know that is still not enough. A very well-intentioned friend asked me what one thing he could do to make this situation better. I had to say, “There’s no one thing.” You can’t fully stop racism in policing without understanding the racism in the laws we ask our police to enforce, the racism in a criminal justice system that over-incarcerates black men, the racism in how we white Americans perceive a threat when we see someone who is black. An unjust economic system matters, and so does the issue where I focus most these days: the intolerable racial inequities in education. So does the classism that allows so many of us with privilege to have someone else’s child put on a police uniform and walk into tough situations so we can safely, mindlessly go about our lives.

But, right now, nothing matters more in Minneapolis than reforming the city’s police. An obvious first step would be to demilitarize the department. As a mayor who took office right after 9/11, I quickly saw that the community-based preventive programs like Bill Clinton’s “cops on the streets” initiative lost funding while we seemingly had a blank check for equipment and weapon systems that too often have the officers we want to “protect and serve” separated from their communities by shields and armored turtle suits.

Fortunately, we don’t need to invent a solution from scratch. We already have the Obama administration’s “21st Century Policing Plan,” which lays out in detail how our country’s police departments can be rebuilt around six pillars: building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education and officer safety and wellness.

One of the most important values I took from that plan is something I learned on a deeply personal level as a mayor: Police officers are human beings. We then train them, put them with others we have trained into cultures that develop around the job and expect them to perform in the most high-stress situations imaginable.

We also know a lot about what makes that human being performing as a police officer thrive in the job or become a headline from a searing incident we could have prevented. The Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago has studied officer conduct over time in major departments and analyzed what actions signal when behavior starts to go off track. This helps us act more quickly when we need to intervene so that officers can be retrained or treated, and get back on track.

When I first saw this research, I realized that if, as mayor, the police chief and I, and the department’s supervisors, had known early when our officers needed our help and attention, we could have saved tens of millions in settlements costs and scores of lives. The problem was we never had the technology or tools to connect in real time what was happening with each officer and we didn’t have access to what we now know about how to step in.

That’s why I joined the founding board of Benchmark Analytics, which is now using that work in 60 cities and the state of New Jersey to connect department internal personnel systems to that deep research so mayors and chiefs can do what I never could to prevent the next tragic incident.

There are many more specific actions that can be taken but above all we need to address police culture. I have never been a police officer, so my experience is limited to what I have seen as a reporter and mayor. But I have come to know so many officers and continue to struggle with how I can know so many truly committed people whose collective actions I don’t recognize. In my city, at least, we have a majority of officers who let a minority of officers create an us-vs.-them culture that over time dehumanizes the people and neighborhoods the officers are supposed to protect and serve. Throw race into this toxic mix and you end up with behavior that often has to be named for what it is: racism. It plays itself out when a knee stays on the neck of a human being treated like he’s not human.

Much has been written by people who know more than I about police culture, but I do know it can be reformed only from within. That means the majority of officers need to rise up and take control of their culture. To the many good officers I know exist, I say this: I know the consequences of being shunned by your co-workers, but I also know you know in your heart that George Floyd should not be dead. Your silence is deafening and this city, and this country, cannot move forward until we hear your voices.

There is good news. We have stood at this place before, in Minneapolis and across the country. Yes, this might seem like the beginning of a familiar and dispiriting cycle: a terrible incident, a few days of promises and then, as the attention fades, so does the hope of change. But I also know that this is not a predestined conclusion. Change is possible. I know because I have seen it before in this very city.

Forty-one years ago, I was a young crime reporter. Night after night, I covered a police department that had deep issues of trust with two communities: residents who were black, and residents who were gay.

All these years later, one of those groups has seen enormous change. The Minneapolis police, which back then routinely beat and humiliated gay residents, is now one of the most gay-friendly departments in the country with openly gay officers serving in every part of the force, including at one point, the role of chief. There was no one action that made that possible, instead, in thousands of interactions, that wall creating an us vs. them turned into a we because each group recognized we are human beings on the other side.

The fact that we have seen so much progress with gay residents and almost none with black residents says a lot about the perniciousness of racism. We need to own that. But it does also say that change is possible, and now we have to prove that is true.

Copyright 2016 POLITICO LLC.

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has impacted communities across the country, as law enforcement and other public sector agencies prepare for the short- and long-term effects of this virus. This includes having tools in place to support staffing, training and communication; having ample supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE); being prepared for evolving community requests; and delivering plans and procedures that reflect recommendations from local, state and federal authorities. COVID-19 Funding

To ensure that public safety agencies across the U.S. are prepared for the current impact of COVID-19, as well as what lies ahead, Federal grant resources have been issued.

Federal Grant Resources: BJA-CESF
On March 30, 2020 a grant solicitation was shared by the Office of Justice Programs  regarding the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program. The funding program has $850 million available and the BJA intends to make 1,873 awards.

The BJA-CESF program will provide funding to assist eligible states, local units of government, and tribes in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the coronavirus. BJA -CESF

In the solicitation, the BJA shared that “States, U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, units of local government, and federally recognized tribal governments that were identified as eligible for funding under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program are eligible to apply under the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program solicitation. Only the State Administering Agency that applied for FY 2019 JAG funding for a state/territory may apply for the state allocation of CESF funding.”

The eligible allocations for the FY 2020 CESF Program can be found at: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/fy20-cesf-allocations

What will BJA-CESF be used for?
Funds awarded under the CESF program will be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Allowable projects and purchases include, but are not limited to:

  • Overtime, equipment (including law enforcement and medical PPE)
  • Hiring
  • Supplies (such as gloves, mask, sanitizer)
  • Training (such as training management software for organization-wide virtual training — as well as cross-training of personnel for temporary duty reassignment to assure proper coverage of essential duties)
  • Travel expenses (particularly related to the distribution of resources to the most impacted areas)
  • Addressing the medical needs of inmates in state, local, and tribal prisons, jails and detention centers.

BJA-CESF program next steps
The application for BJA-CESF is due May 29, 2020. Cities and states are awarded funding on an ongoing, rolling basis from now till the application due date.

For more information how the BJA-CESF program works and grant submission help, visit our Grants Page at https://www.benchmarkanalytics.com/covid19-grants/.

The importance of COVID-19 data collection
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has shared that collecting data and documenting response protocols for future review and assessment during this time is important as well. “While pandemics rarely occur, an agency can learn a lot about its emergency response by studying past efforts,” as stated in IACP’s resource Organizational Readiness: Considerations for Preparing Your Agency for COVID-19. Types of data include, but are not strictly limited to, COVID-19-related calls for service, officer exposure, staffing numbers, and health and wellness measures of officers.

COVID-19 Data Collection

To that, agencies are partnering with personnel management software providers for monitoring, tracking and reporting data. For example, the Benchmark Management System® can create custom COVID-19 Exposure Forms that capture interactions related to coronavirus — to help identify trends, facilitate proactive intervention and help keep department personnel serving on the frontlines safe. This data can also be used post-pandemic to justify reimbursement of expenditures at the state and federal levels.

Visit benchmarkanalytics.com to learn more.

 

In a 2017 study, the Vera Institute published a study on state-level police reform. They found two goals drove the majority of new laws: increase police confidence and improve police safety. Between 2015 and 2016, “34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions . . .to change some aspect of policing policy or practice.” When looking at the entire data set, researchers identified three outcome categories for the new legislation: “improve policing practices; document police operations; and increase accountability in police use of force cases.”

There’s an underlying function all agencies must acquire in order to fully comply with these new laws without over-burdening their personnel or exhausting their budgets, and that’s the ability to effectively capture officer data. For many police executives in these states, transparent data is rarely a choice. It’s now a necessity.

Bringing a Wheelbarrow to the Indy 500

Trying to manage the data requirements of new legislation using legacy methods like spreadsheets and carbon paper is akin to racing the Indy 500 with a wheelbarrow. Even more contemporary systems like Excel falter under sophisticated reporting and redaction demands.

To some degree, this is due to an imbalance between the current reality of public sector IT and the expectations of citizens accustomed to private sector innovation. Outsiders will see any additional oversight as a natural extension of existing policies and reporting. In reality, most agencies are capturing and analyzing data through a variety of home-grown and third-party systems like CAD’s and RMS’s.

Without a holistic platform in place integrating this software, you end up with data silos that require manual intervention to yield a comprehensive report on agency activity. This disconnect leaves police executives with a massive lift to ensure their agency is compliant without burning out their sworn and civilian personnel.

However, those same expectations, and requirements, of the private sector have also driven down what once were prohibitive costs of enterprise technology. Now companies invest in shifting IT from on-premise to the cloud. As the cost of deploying software from the cloud declines, sophisticated governance and compliance technology is becoming available to police departments at costs affordable on government budgets.

California’s SB 1421: The Bearable Lightness of Data

data-is-weightlessLast year California legislators passed Senate Bill 1421. It called for agencies to make myriad record types related to police misconduct cases available to public requests.

Information that must now be available upon request includes:

  • Records related to any incident where a law enforcement officer fired a gun at a person (regardless of whether someone was hit), or used force that resulted in serious injury or death.  These records are public whether the department found the officer acted properly or not.
  • Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer committed sexual assault against a member of the public—which includes attempts to coerce sex or proposition sex while on duty.
  • Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer engaged in dishonesty in the investigation, reporting, or prosecution of crime or police misconduct. This kind of dishonesty could include filing a false report, testifying untruthfully, or planting evidence. (Source: ACLU of Southern California)

Many agencies were unprepared for the logistics necessary to comply with SB 1421. What they found was existing systems were incapable of handling the digitization of legacy files (including CDs and floppy disks), of which in many cases, there are entire warehouses. Post-digitization, those agencies are likely looking at terabytes of data to manage, analyze, and scrub for protected data.

California’s SB 1421 is likely to become the rule rather than the exception. Which is why police executives across the country are starting to reassess their existing technology stacks, especially in terms of governance, compliance, and risk management.

Software is a force multiplier, allowing you to do more with less while freeing your personnel to work on more valuable projects.

While every agency will derive unique value, here  are some of the general benefits agencies realize by adopting previously unavailable technology to comply with new state laws.

Reduce the risk of human error

There’s a reason we say that “to err is human.” Which is why it’s great that software is less fallible than we are. This isn’t to say you won’t require IT’s help to implement technology to support officer data initiatives. But having a system that doesn’t need sleep or caffeine to focus will drastically lower the risk you’ll lose or disclose critical data.

Cut time spent on repeat processes

human-error-data-technologyOne of the best use cases for software is automation. Remember what it was like when you had to dial someone’s number? Now you can just tap a contact’s name. The same logic plays out in the latest technology. You’ll be able to configure any enterprise software to automatically complete your data-related tasks. Whether it’s capturing data in real-time or performing analysis on it, software tackles the drudgery, leaving the critical thinking to you and your leadership team.

Offset technical debt

Technical debt is a concept used in engineering, specifically, when choosing the easier way in the near-term creates long-term consequences either known or unknown. According to the experts, there are three types of technical debt: Deliberate, Accidental, and “Bit Rot.”

The one most agencies come up against is “Accidental” technical debt. This is usually accidental due to outdated systems or software. If, at some point in your department’s history, a decision was made to stick with paper or spreadsheets because the software implementation would be too much in the near-term, then you’re likely dealing with accidental technical debt.

By investing in future-oriented technology now, you’ll need to bear the effort it’ll take to digitize your information, but down the line you’ll be more resilient if new legislature requires additional layers of data transparency.

Make existing data actionable

When data is spread across multiple systems, it takes a Herculean effort to make sense of it. You need to pull reports from each one, leaving time to manually reconcile them.  Not only does this process require time from your technical personnel (or the resources to bring in third-party data analysts), it’s also inherently retrospective. You’re never able to see things in real-time, which means your decisions are always based on outdated information. New technology makes it easy to comply with state transparency laws, and it also makes it easy for you to see holistically what’s going on in your department.

As more laws like SB 1421 make digitizing historical information mandatory, it’s more important than ever before for police executives to understand and embrace new technology. Without it, you and your officers will end up spending more time working on systems instead of working to serve your community.

Interested in learning more? See how cloud technology is helping agencies in California comply with SB 1421 here.