Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jamar Clark Killing Internal Investigation.

About ten days ago, on Friday October 21st, the police department announced that they had completed their internal investigation into the police officer killing on November 15th, 2015 of Jamar Clark and that the chief has determined that there were no violations of City policy and that the officers will not receive any discipline. She wrote, “After looking at all the evidence and all the verifiable facts in this case, I can say with absolute certainty that I fully support the actions of [the] Officers….We did not find any violation of MPD policy.”
While not surprising, given the long history of not disciplining officers involved in police killings and similar determinations by other investigating bodies who looked into this case, the result was a shock and disappointment to many, including me.
While I have confidence and trust in the Chief and the Mayor and have not been given the same access as others to the evidence, I remain deeply concerned by a number of things about this case. These concerns include: 1) the failure of the officers to record anything despite squad cameras and audio being available; 2) the very, very short time that passed between the officers arriving at the scene and when they choose to escalate to physical violence against Mr. Clark; 3) the failure on the officers’ part to employ any de-escalation techniques despite the fact that Mr. Clark was not threatening to harm anyone and was not armed; 4) the specific way that Mr. Clark was “taken down” and the fact that the technique that was used and the way it was used allegedly – per the officers’ own testimony – provided Mr. Clark easy access to an officer’s firearm, dramatically increasing the risk inherent in the situation; and, 5)the fact that he was shot in the head and that other less lethal use-of-force techniques were not used. I am especially struck by the failure of the officers to avail themselves of the clear opportunities they had to negotiate, wait and observe or get further assistance while Mr. Clark was clearly posing no imminent threat to anyone.
It is worth noting that the Internal Affairs police investigators did not look for new evidence or talk to witnesses themselves but relied on and reviewed the evidence in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension file, including all videos, witness statements, police reports and supplements, Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center records, and Hennepin Emergency Medical Services Dispatch files. They evaluated the evidence against relevant police department policies and procedures. Then the case was presented to the Internal Affairs Unit Commander and forwarded to the Chief’s Office for review by a four person panel comprised of the Assistant Chief and three Deputy Chiefs. The Chief made the final determination.
As an elected official and not a trained police officer, I do not possess the same degree of training in law enforcement that the Chief’s panel did, and perhaps the officers in this case acted according to national best practices, best training and in compliance with all city and police department policies. I am not necessarily disputing that. But after days of reflection on this, reviewing the videos and listening to and reading the reports of the County Attorney and Minneapolis Police Department, I can only conclude this: if the officers followed our policies in this incident, then something is deeply wrong with those polices. If their actions represented the best training we have available, then that training is (or was) grossly inadequate. If this exemplifies national best practices, then those best practices are fundamentally flawed. Mr. Clark did not need to be killed and should not have been killed. The officers’ actions in this case resulted in a preventable, avoidable, and tragic death. Our best practices are insufficient. Our policies must be improved. We need to learn from this incident, and other similar instances, to ensure that this never happens again.
When Chief Harteau was sworn in, in her inaugural speech she laid out a clear, moving guiding principle by which she wanted every police officer to judge "every encounter" with the public: "Did my actions reflect how I would want a member of my family to be treated?" I don't think that anyone - certainly not me - can say that they would want a member of our family treated the way Jamar Clark was treated. I would not want a member of my family to be shot in the head within one minute and one second of encountering police officers for not taking his or her hands out of his or her pocket fast enough. By the Chief's own test, the Minneapolis Police Department, its officers, and the whole City of Minneapolis failed Mr. Clark that night. As a City Council Member, I failed Jamar, and by failing him, failed our community and failed ourselves. We must - we absolutely must - do better.
Finally, I will note the glaring omission of any formal community or civilian review of this internal affairs investigation. Despite efforts taken by the Council and in City Ordinance to create a system of shared police and community/civilian oversight and review of police issues and complaints, and to bring Internal Affairs cases into our more general police conduct review process, in this case with such intense community concern and interest, none of the available city-appointed civilian police conduct review panelists were included in the review, nor were any of the civilian investigators. I remain convinced that there is a serious and wide divide between community expectations and professional policing standards when it comes to police conduct. Until we can close that divide, community confidence and trust in the police will be hard to build.