The city of Minneapolis and its police department are willfully subverting our state’s Government Data Practices Act by withholding public data about disciplinary action taken against police for serious misconduct, according to a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Minnesota in state court Thursday.
“(T) he City Defendants have proven that not only will they remain willfully blind to the misconduct of problem officers, but that they will bury these officers’ disciplinary data away from the public by calling it ‘coaching.’ This data belongs to the public, especially when the City Defendants have abdicated their accountability function,” said the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Ballard Spahr on behalf of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI).
MPD claims it uses coaching (which involves a talk with a supervisor about correcting a problem and a written memo to document it in an employee’s personnel file) to quickly address only low-level police behavioral problems, such as seatbelt violations.
But multiple records show MPD improperly and intentionally classifies disciplinary action for serious violations as coaching, even when a violation is supposed to require suspension. Moreover, the city doesn’t report coaching as discipline, shielding hundreds of cases of police misconduct from public access or scrutiny.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Hennepin County District Court against the city of Minneapolis, the city clerk, the city’s human resources department head, and the police chief asks the court to order the city to follow state law and release police disciplinary data. It also asks for damages.
According to Office of Police Conduct Review data, more than 70% of final dispositions resulting in discipline are hidden from the public by being classified as coaching.
MPD has been using coaching since at least 2013. But the practice didn’t show up in the police policy manual or the union contract until Dec. 31, 2020. Before that, the MPD policy manual required that discipline was mandatory when an officer violated MPD policy. The city and MPD quietly removed this mandatory discipline provision from the MPD manual and replaced it with coaching - seven months after George Floyd’s murder by MPD officers.