There is no “systematic problem” with Minneapolis Police (by President Kroll)

July 29, 2017 – The slogan “to protect with courage and serve with compassion” is more than mere words painted on the side of Minneapolis squad cars.  It expresses a legitimate expectation of officers by the public they are sworn to serve. 

Whenever a police officer causes the death of any person, the public deserves to know whether the officer’s actions were appropriate.  Whether the officer acted appropriately is a question that can only be answered by conducting an investigation and then applying the evidence gathered against the established legal standards. 

Minnesota Statutes §609.066 authorize peace officers to use deadly force in the following circumstances:

(1) to protect the officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm;

(2) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person who the officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed a felony involving the use of deadly force or will cause death or great bodily harm if apprehension is delayed.

The U.S. Supreme Court also has established a standard for judging an officer’s use of force in Graham v. Connor: 

“Because the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application, its proper application requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including:

  • The severity of the crime at issue,
  • Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and;
  • Whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of the reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

(emphasis added)

The death of Justine Ruszczyk was a tragedy.  We do not know why Officer Noor used deadly force.  His use of force may prove to be justified or may be found to be not justified under these legal standards.  This commentary is not offered to answer the questions of why Ms. Ruszczyk died or what the consequences to Officer Noor ought to be, if any.  Instead, the purpose is to address the aftermath of this tragedy that has resulted in a torrent of opinions, beliefs and solutions to perceived problems that are horribly at odds with reality and demonstrate an ignorance of the law under which the actions of police officers are judged.  Worse, many such statements have come from Minneapolis’s elected officials who ought to know better.   

The Fallacy of Linking Critical Incidents.

City Council members Cam Gordon, Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender issued a statement last week that included the following as evidence of the necessity for reform in the Minneapolis Police Department:

Justine should not have been killed, just as Jamar Clark, Terrance Franklin, Philando Castile and so many others should not have been killed.

As stated above, the U.S. Supreme Court instructs that we must pay “careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case.”  Here are some of the facts and circumstances of each of these cases. 

Philando Castile.  Castile was shot by a St. Anthony police officer, not a Minneapolis officer, who was subsequently acquitted by a jury.  The suggestion that MPD must reform because of the actions of an officer who was hired, trained and supervised by a different agency strains the boundaries of rational thought.   

Terrance Franklin.  On May 10, 2013, Franklin led police on a 91 minute chase through Uptown on a Friday afternoon after a 911 caller identified him as the suspect in a burglary.  In the car with him were a woman and two young children.  After crashing into a squad car, Franklin fled on foot, broke into a house and hid in the basement.  Ignoring pleas by officers to surrender, he fought with five officers, grabbed an officer’s MP5 machine pistol and shot two officers before one officer was able to return fire.  Franklin’s DNA was found on the trigger of the MP5. 

Jamar Clark.  On November 15, 2015, paramedics called dispatch for assistance when Clark was interfering with their efforts to treat a woman.  When officers arrived, Clark was combative and, during the ensuing physical struggle, he grabbed an officer’s gun while both were on the ground.  The other officer shot Clark to save his partner.  At the time, Clark was awaiting trial on felony charges from four months earlier when he led officers on a high speed chase in a stolen car with passengers inside.  The chase ended when Clark crashed into a tree.  Clark refused to surrender in that incident as well. 

Justine Ruszczyk.  On July 15, 2017, Ruszczyk called 911 to report what she believed to be a sexual assault in progress.  After calling a second time, she approached officers and was shot while at the side of the squad car.  There is no evidence that Ruszczyk was engaged in any criminal activity on the evening she died or had done so in the past.   

The Council members apparently forgot about Raul Marquez-Heraldes who was killed by two Minneapolis police officers in April, 2016.  Perhaps it was because in that case, de-escalation efforts failed and Marquez-Heraldes nearly stabbed a man to death before officers had to shoot him to save the life of the stabbing victim.  Or more likely, they forgot because there were no protests, public outcry or media attention following the death of Marquez-Heraldes. 

Other than the simple fact that Ruszczyk, Marquez-Heraldes, Clark and Franklin were each shot by Minneapolis officers, the Ruszczyk case bears no relationship to the other three.  Any attempt to link the incidents or suggest that the only difference is the race of the decedents (or the race of the officers) demonstrates either a blatant ignorance of the facts or a deliberate intent to misrepresent them.  No person can legitimately pay “careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case” and claim that the deaths of Ruszczyk, Marquez-Heraldes, Clark, and Franklin are evidence of a pattern of conduct by Minneapolis officers or that the treatment of Officer Noor by the MPD or the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis is racially motivated. 

Systemic Problem in MPD

Related to the suggestion that none of the recent shootings were justified (clearly the implication in saying that they “didn’t have to die”), in the last 10 days, several elected officials including Rep. Keith Ellison and Council Member Linea Palmisano have proclaimed that there is a “systemic problem” in the Minneapolis Police Department.  These words “systemic problem” have been repeated ad nauseam by commentators, protestors and the media in reference to the MPD. 

A “systemic problem” is defined as “a problem affecting an entire population as a group.”  To our knowledge, none of the people applying this term to the Minneapolis Police Department have provided any evidence supporting their conclusion that there is a problem affecting all 850 members of the Minneapolis Police Department.  If they have some, we ask that they produce it so we can join them in evaluating its reliability and consider the extent to which it supports a conclusion that changes in practices or personnel are necessary. 

To the contrary, the following is only some of the evidence showing that those who throw around this highly damaging and inflammatory term so loosely are detached from reality or deliberately misrepresenting it for the purposes of advancing their own political ambitions or agendas. 

1. In the last five years, Minneapolis police have killed 4 people:  Franklin (May, 2013); Clark (November, 2015); Marquez-Heraldes (April, 2016); and Ruszczyk (July, 2017). 

2. The Minneapolis Police Department has roughly 850 sworn personnel, of these about 470 are assigned to patrol duty. 

3. Each year, these 470 Minneapolis patrol officers are dispatched to respond to 125,000 calls for service.  They also engage in about 5 citizen contacts for every call they answer.  Thus, each year MPD patrol officers engage in about 625,000 citizen contacts (roughly 52,000 per month). 

3. MPD officers had more than 2.6 million citizen contacts during the 50 months between the time Franklin and Ruszczyk were killed.  Do four deaths out of 2.6 million contacts over more than 4 years really demonstrate a “systemic problem?” 

4. Before answering, include in your consideration the following data from the same 50-month period.  During that time, in Minneapolis there were: 

  • 165 homicides
  • 1,868 rapes
  • 7,917 robberies
  • 8,171 aggravated assaults
  • 97,245 serious crimes (Part 1 Crimes as designated by the FBI)
  • 132,501 arrests made by MPD officers
  • 2,990 guns confiscated and taken off the streets by MPD officers

Yet, in the face of this violence and increased scrutiny on Minneapolis police officers, citizen complaints are down by 56% since 2013. 

This data shows not only that there is not a systemic problem in the MPD, but also that the men and women of the Minneapolis Police Department are well-trained and highly professional peace officers who safely resolve almost all of the situations into which they are asked to “protect with courage and serve with compassion.” 

Minneapolis police officers wish that “almost all” was 100% and that they never were placed in situations where they have to fire their weapons.  However, as these data show, the “systemic problem” lies in the level of violence in the City – not in the ranks of the people that are asked to combat it. 

Further, no matter how carefully selected, trained, evaluated and supervised; police officers, like all human beings, make mistakes.  Clearly, the consequences of mistakes by police officers can be deadly just as in many other professions.  Even if Ruszczyk’s death is ultimately found to have resulted from a mistake (the shooting deaths of Franklin, Clark and Marquez-Heraldes were found to be justified), mistakes by police officers must be analyzed and addressed in a reasonable context under applicable legal standards rather than by raw emotion and unfounded perceptions.  It is preposterous to think that a hospital administrator would be fired and all of the doctors condemned as part of a “systemic problem” if only four surgical procedures out of 2.6 million resulted a patient’s death (with just one caused by a doctor’s mistake).

The community rightly expects that a police officer should not use harmful force before first assessing the facts and evidence before them even though, as noted by the U.S. Supreme Court, they must do so in circumstances that are “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”  In conclusion we pose two questions for your consideration: 

1. Is it too much to ask that our elected officials (who, unlike officers, can take as much time as necessary and do so in the safety of their offices) likewise gather and assess the evidence before they cause harm by proclaiming that there are “systemic problems” in their own police department or that individuals in drastically different circumstances should not have died? 

2. If a person in or seeking elected office is unable or unwilling to do so, are they fit to serve the public?