Minneapolis officials say they have public support to break up the city's police union into separate entities for rank-and-file officers and supervisors, a proposal Mayor Jacob Frey previously said would foster more accountability in the department.
With the current contract for the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis expiring at the end of this year, city staff presented comments Tuesday on how to improve the collective-bargaining agreement with the police. The comments were gathered in three listening sessions held throughout the city and attended by hundreds of people.
"SPLIT THE UNION," reads one of the comments, according to a report summarizing the community feedback. "Take management (sergeants, lieutenants) out of the rank and file union. This is the MAJOR barrier to accountability in [the Police Department], it prevents effective oversight, training, and administration of discipline."
"Problem: If an officer challenges discipline, the officer, and his/her boss are in the same union. This creates conflict of interest," reads another. "Solution: Have separate unions for officers and supervisors."
Under the current structure, high-level command staff do not belong to the union, but sergeants and lieutenants are in the same bargaining unit as patrol officers. When Frey first floated the idea of splitting the union four years ago, he said supervisors are less likely to discipline an officer who is on their "team" and that creating their separate unions would put Minneapolis in line with the norm in other major U.S. cities.
In an interview Tuesday, Frey said the move would ensure that recognition of "rank and responsibility of the officers is reflected in the union itself." He said that for years, community members have expressed support for this change.
On Oct. 31, the city asked the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services to break up the union. Frey said he expects a response early next year.
"There is a different set of goals and interests if you are a police officer than if you are a supervisor, a sergeant, a lieutenant," Frey said in a news conference last week.
Police union President Sherral Schmidt did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In an interview in 2018, federation lawyer Jim Michels dismissed the idea as a futile and meaningless exercise. At the time, Michels also rejected the suggestion that supervisors might go easier on officers because they're in the same bargaining unit.
"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who can give you an example of a situation in which an employee got preferential treatment because of their union affiliation," he told the Star Tribune.
The Minneapolis police federation has for decades wielded power in city and state politics, at times in open rebellion against city leaders who were elected on promises of reforming the department.
In a KSTP-TV report in 2014, then-police union President John Delmonico accused Mayor Betsy Hodges of "flashing gang signs" with a man in a photograph. "For as critical as she can be with the cops — is she going to support gangs in this city or cops?" said Delmonico. The accusation backfired and attracted international mockery, in an episode dubbed "Pointergate," when video emerged showing Hodges and the man were only pointing at each other during a voter drive.
After the killing of George Floyd, firebrand union leader Bob Kroll sent a letter to rank-and-file officers condemning the "despicable" response to rioting on behalf of Frey and Gov. Tim Walz. Kroll, who retired last year, also described what would be a failed attempt to reverse Frey's termination of the officers who detained Floyd. The letter elicited criticism from city officials, including former Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who called Kroll "a disgrace to the badge."
"This is the battle that myself and others have been fighting against. Bob Kroll turn in your badge!" Harteau wrote on Twitter.
Frey reiterated his desire to break up the union in the weeks after Floyd's murder. In last week's news conference, reporters questioned whether his proposal is meant to weaken a union that's been openly critical of his performance as mayor.
Frey replied that the move is about "professionalizing the department — making sure we can have a tailored plan for each respective unit."
Other public comments
Comments in the public hearings focused on three categories: accountability, retention and recruitment, and officer mental health.
Several commenters called on city leaders to reform the process of "coaching" officers — a form of one-on-one mentoring that the city contests doesn't meet the bar of real discipline and isn't subject to public data laws. Police watchdogs and public records advocates say the department uses this classification as a blanket term to hide police misconduct from the public.
"Transparency is key: City must not hide behind coaching," reads one comment.
In the retention and recruitment category, some suggested paying officers more, offering incentives for police to live in the city and focusing recruitments on female or racially diverse candidates.
For mental health, participants recommended more psychological services and screening for officers, limiting maximum hours worked per week and more internal moral support.
Staff reporter Katie Galioto contributed to this report.