After following local, state and federal police efforts for the past several years to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, we are troubled by Peter Hutchinson's June 3 commentary "Court should not consent to police reforms — yet," which argues that the historic settlement agreement between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights should not be implemented by the parties and approved by the District Court unless it is substantially restructured and revised. Although we respect Hutchinson generally, his criticisms of the agreement and the conditions he wants the court to impose to amend it are ill-advised.
Hutchinson's primary criticism is that the agreement does not contain "specific measures" to "assess progress." Not so; anyone who reads the agreement will see that embedded in it in many places are dozens of specific measures by which police supervisors, the community oversight commission, the Independent Evaluator, the Department of Human Rights and the community can assess progress in reducing discrimination in policing and enhancing public safety through community trust. For example, paragraph 109 of the agreement requires the police to collect, preserve and provide 19 different kinds of data on every use of force so that the supervisors, the Independent Evaluator, the state and the community can review and assess it on multiple levels. Periodic reports from the Police Department and the Independent Evaluator on these incidents are required. The metric to be achieved, of course, is to de-escalate incidents and reduce the number of improper uses of force to: zero.
Also embedded in the agreement is the idea that progress will be assessed, not just by numbers, but by values that numbers don't always reflect: human dignity and community trust. The city and the department wisely created multiple opportunities for citizen input and engagement during implementation of the agreement and required the police to collect and publicly disclose the detailed records and data necessary to support this input and engagement. As our watchful citizens, a strengthened community oversight board and the newly established Independent Evaluator do just that, we might learn that certain measurements offer the most insight into preventing officer misconduct.
Although Hutchinson complains that the agreement contains insufficient metrics, he does not suggest any. Rather, he suggests that $20 million be raised and awarded for meeting "specific levels of racial discrimination in policing and public safety." Whatever the merits may be of a first-in-the-nation system of monetary rewards to be handed out by a court, that would require that the existing agreement be reopened and restructured. Even if possible, the delay would be totally unacceptable. One commentator's vision of perfection must not be the enemy of the good.
The settlement agreement was laboriously negotiated and is a thoughtful, specific road map to change the Police Department's culture. Among other things, it would change policies and practices on the use of force, stops, searches and arrests; how officers are trained and supervised; how officer wellness is supported; how misconduct is prevented, identified, investigated and sanctioned; how and what data is collected and accessible to the community, and how the community exercises oversight.
The settlement agreement is a huge step forward for civil rights and public safety. The culture needs to change — immediately. We just observed the third anniversary of George Floyd's murder. Now is not the time for delay.
Catherine Shreves and John Satorius are co-chairs of Plymouth Church Re-imagining Community Safety Group.