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Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara laid out an array of viewpoints about policing in his city and around the country during a roundtable that was convened late last year and covered in the newly released April edition of Harper's Magazine under the headline: "Crime and Punishment: Can American policing be fixed?"

The April issue of Harper's Magazine. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara was part of a discussion on the future of American policing, the focus of the cover story.
The April issue of Harper's Magazine. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara was part of a discussion on the future of American policing, the focus of the cover story.

Joining O'Hara on the panel, sponsored by Harper's and Georgetown Law's Center for Innovations in Community Safety, were Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka and various scholars. The panelists met in Harper's New York City offices on Nov. 30, and the discussion among them continued by email. Here are some of O'Hara's comments.

On politics: "I've spent the past year running the police department in Minneapolis, and I'm still shocked by how extreme these ideologies are. Minneapolis is just one of a few blue dots in the middle of a rural red state. For some folks, hating the police has become a political cause. There's still a very strong movement to defund the police, even in the middle of a five-alarm fire. In Minneapolis, 374 people were shot this year, which is outrageous. And we're a police department that's 40 percent smaller than it was a few years ago.

Staffing challenges: "Our investigations unit has shrunk by almost 50 percent. We might soon be in a situation where we're just not going to investigate property crimes anymore. We might have to do that. And the community that will suffer the most is North Minneapolis. On my first visit there after becoming chief, it felt like New York City on September 12, 2001. People really, really want police protection. They just want good police officers. But then you have wealthier residents on the other side of town who are still screaming to get rid of us, even though the most that happens in their neighborhoods is change getting stolen out of their cars."

Prevalence of police killing civilians: "The problem is that there's such a focus in training on being tactical and on officer safety that they're approaching every situation like it's a dangerous encounter. They're not learning how to engage with people, especially people who are different from them, which is the root of the problem. It is a pretty difficult thing to try to change. I've been taking tools away from them. I've been changing their policies, telling them they can't do this, they can't do that. It's difficult to keep shoving it down their throats, particularly when the city is just so insanely violent with guns right now."

Impact on racial communities: "A more frequent issue is the disparate impact according to race that shows up in arrests, stops, and every other enforcement activity that police officers do. And I think some of that is a function of schools failing, racial covenants in housing deeds, redlining. ... At the same time, we put police officers where the most harm is happening."

Officer training: "I'm a licensed peace officer in the state of Minnesota. I have to do all the training that they do to get that license and maintain it. I'll never forget some of the stuff I saw when I first went there. There were posters, and they were all specific to Minneapolis. The images on them were unbelievable. One of them showed a cop being choked while his partner was also being choked at gunpoint. Another said something like how you train will affect how you perform in combat. Literally: combat was on two of these things. And then I went through the firearms qualification course, where they grade you on how well you shoot. I'm used to the New Jersey standard, where you just train to shoot center mass. In Minneapolis, they tell you, 'Okay, next one the head.' ... Why are we training people to shoot someone in the head?"

Controversial leg restraint: There was this one maneuver that I got rid of when I became chief. It was an issue in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd. It was a restraint technique called the hobble. It's inhumane. It is hog-tying a human being. I stood there looking on as they demonstrated it with one another at the academy. I thought it was a joke."

Respect for citizens: There's little things that we do that communicate disrespect. I saw it myself before I even started working in Minneapolis: Cops would show up to a crime scene. Now, sometimes if it's an emergency, you park the cars however you can. But after the emergency's long since over, one or two cars will be left still in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, while the cops are clearly just hanging out. And residents have to turn around in order to get where they're going. Cops are doing stuff constantly that says 'we don't have to respect you.' "

Collaboration among stakeholders: "One issue is that no one is able to share information between all these different systems that should be working together. I'll give you one example of a disaster. There is a woman from one of the Minneapolis suburbs who was the victim of domestic violence. She moved into the city so she could live in a homeless shelter. Her nine-year-old son is autistic. Since August, I think, we had ten or twelve interactions with him, because he runs away and has become increasingly violent. In the last one, he tried to stab a police officer. It was a bad situation. Thankfully no one was hurt. We have social workers in the precincts who work for Hennepin County, and the county is supposed to provide all this help and everything else. Even after I got involved personally, it still took weeks to get some help. It's crazy how bad the rest of the system is. It's a crisis. It is an emergency. Could you imagine if we shot an autistic child trying to stab a cop?"