IS THE POLICE CHIEF’S ROLE IN THE FLOYD CASE UNDERRATED?

Minneapolis Police Department Chief, Medaria Arradondo, has gotten neutral or favorable treatment in the media. This may be in part because he was the first African American to serve as chief, and because of his willingness to testify against Derek Chauvin, recently tried for the death of George Floyd. I offer observations that Arradondo may have a greater role in problems at the Minneapolis Police Department than might be apparent.

The Minneapolis Police Department website

 Police department websites reflect police leadership policies and are the main information interface between police and the public. In 2018 a federal work-study project under my leadership at George Mason University used police websites among criteria to rank over 50 Virginia counties and municipalities for quality of public safety and policing. [http://hdl.handle.net/1920/10887].

Out of curiosity, after the death of Floyd, I applied our criteria to rate the Minneapolis Police Department’s website. I was startled to find that it would have ranked at the bottom of all Virginia police websites. Instead of making it easy for the public to use the site, I had to solve visual puzzles to even enter the site, and more puzzles got In the way of opening sections within it. This implies astonishing insensitivity to the purpose and use of police websites.

The current department website is changed from that after Floyd’s death. It emphasizes the chief’s personal background and accomplishments but lacks information useful to the general public, like readily accessible telephone numbers to relevant services, important news, and information on community outreach programs. Crime statistics, another type of data of interest to the public, are offered in quirky detail without simple yearly totals that are common to most departments as well as the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report tables. The death of Floyd is listed only by date without mentioning Floyd’s name, among other events, in a partly buried data set:  “Frequently requested public information”.  It lists only a Fire Department report along with that of the Hennepin County medical examiner.

Arbitrary firings of Chauvin and accompanying officers

Within hours after Floyd’s death, Chief Arradondo fired Chauvin and the 3 officers present. https://www.startribune.com/in-interview-with-agents-minneapolis-chief-arradondo-details-emotional-discussions-before-officers-w/600042961/.

Whatever the actions of the officers, there should have been procedures for proper evaluation of the circumstances as well as respect for the rights of the individuals. Arradondo’s abrupt action could be considered unprofessional and even self-serving, possibly taken to distance himself from association with the appalling treatment of Floyd. The Chief’s subsequent testimony against Chauvin logically follows from his earlier actions. Arradondo’s public comments following the death of Floyd did not strike me as measured and appropriate under the circumstances. Rather, his management gave the impression of being arbitrary and erratic.

Minneapolis Police Department history

An article by an award-winning journalist, who covered police activities in Minneapolis,  Todd Baer, notes that Minneapolis police had a history of brutality and coverups during the past five years. This was true before Arradondo became chief, but there is no evidence that he brought significant change, nor that the mayor, who has the authority over the appointment of the chief in Minneapolis, took appropriate action. In short, isolated positive actions by the chief do not adequately counter evidence suggesting that he is self-focused, erratic, and showed obliviousness to problems associated with his department – which could extend to the behaviors of members of his force.

The importance of top police leadership was dramatically illustrated when two commissioners of police for  New York City, Raymond Kelly and William Bratton, made comprehensive changes in police policies, rapidly bringing violent crime in what was previously the murder capital of America down to among the lowest murder rates for big cities in America (see below figure).

Source: “Crime in New York City”, Wikipedia, 2021

Conclusion

Police leadership deserves more attention in the Minneapolis case as well as in other cities experiencing excessive force on the part of police against African Americans.

Reference

Baier, Todd.  2020.  “The Minneapolis police department has a long history of brutality: I know because as a local reporter I covered it for five years and discovered the lengths it would go to conceal it.”  Al Jazeera https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/6/11/the-minneapolis-police-department-has-a-long-history-of-brutality