Recent comments about Minneapolis police suggest add more font or forge a court order demanding that multiple government and community entities enter into a compact to “achieve racial justice and equity, reduce crime, increase safety for all, and build trust throughout our community.”
The first approach is too narrow; the second is too vague and unrealistic. Simply adding more officers does not address the need to transform the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD); yet a grand plan to solve the MPD’s problems by involving multiple parties in a pact is hazy and impractical.
An approach much more likely to succeed is the model created by the Patten Commission (formerly the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland). He was tasked with transforming policing in the six counties by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 which resolved “the Troubles”.
The Patten Report was published in 1999. It may not seem intuitive at first glance that the problems facing the MPD following the murder of George Floyd are comparable to those of the Royal Ulster Constabulary following the decades of sectarian violence from 1968 to 1998 , in which more than 3,600 people were killed by police, military and paramilitary forces. But the MPD has accumulated decades of distrust of minority communities comparable, if not identical, to the effects of decades of mistreatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland.
The past 10 years of MPD abuse of minority group members is amply documented in Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) findings released in June 2022. Previous investigations, including those from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, documented decades of similar abuse.
The problems facing the MPD are significant, but no more daunting than those of Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.
Mayor Jacob Frey has repeatedly proclaimed Minneapolis to be a model for police reform. He often quoted J. Scott Thompson, former president of the Police Executive Research Forum and former Camden, NJ, police chief who transformed policing there: “In a police department, culture eats politics. breakfast. The MDHR’s findings also concluded that “without fundamental organizational cultural change, reform of MPD policies, procedures and training will be meaningless.”
Yet, to date, there have been no recommendations to change the culture of the MPD.
The Patten Report is widely credited with transforming policing culture and practice in Northern Ireland. The Patten Commission was chaired by Conservative politician Lord Chris Patten and had eight members and a secretary. Among its members was Kathleen O’Toole, then Boston Police Commissioner, later Seattle Police Chief, and court-appointed consultant or overseer for several investigations into Department of Justice (DOJ) patterns or practices .
The Patten report made 175 recommendations in 19 thematic areas. The recommendations echoed many recommendations from Frey’s Community Safety Task Force regarding best practices for recruitment, training, accountability and oversight. But it also incorporated the key recommendation that the protection of human rights is fundamental to the performance of police duties and must be at the heart of policing – and that respect for the law and respect for the rights of man are not separated.
In 2016, George Hamilton, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said: “As a police officer, human rights protect me, my family and my community, and I think it’s something to cherish. The parties to the troubles, including Sinn Fein and loyalist groups, have joined over time in supporting the reforms produced by the Patten Report.
Americans don’t often look abroad for solutions to problems, but in this case, we should.
While the government structure in Northern Ireland, a constituent country of Great Britain, differs from the city of Minneapolis, the tripartite accountability system (a board that oversees the police agency, an ombudsman to investigate complaints and an inspectorate that performs periodic policy and practice inspections and recommends reforms and improvements) can be adapted to fit the MPD, Mayor, City Council and independent oversight bodies. It could be incorporated into MDHR and DOJ consent decrees with the city and MPD.
The mayor, city council, MPD and community groups don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The Patten Report is a viable model for transforming Minneapolis police. It wasn’t easy there, and it won’t be easy here. But it’s a good start.
This guest comment first appeared in the Star Tribune and is published with the permission of the author.