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Minneapolis, state of Minnesota reach policing overhaul agreement

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

It's been nearly three years since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Earlier this month, the last of the four police officers involved in Floyd's death was convicted, marking the end of multiple state and federal trials. Floyd's killing sparked mass protests and a push for racial justice. Now Minneapolis is getting ready to start a complex process it hopes it will overhaul the city's troubled police department. Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins reports.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: It's a cold, rainy day outside the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct. Scorch marks are still visible on the abandoned building. It's one of many that was set afire during the unrest following George Floyd's death, and it's been empty ever since.

ALICIA SMITH: While many people, it seems like, are going back to their normal lives, the folks here in Minneapolis are not. We are at ground zero.

COLLINS: Alicia Smith is executive director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, located in the 3rd Precinct.

SMITH: We have not even begun to truly explore what does healing look like.

COLLINS: That is a central question for a city that was the epicenter of protests against police brutality and where there's been deep-seated distrust between police and many residents. After Floyd's death, a state investigation found that Minneapolis police engaged in routine discrimination, especially against Black residents. Police were more likely to arrest and use severe force against Black people. What came of that investigation was an agreement brokered between the State Department of Human Rights and the city. When the settlement was announced, the city's new police chief, Brian O'Hara, said the department recognizes the terrible things happened in the past, and it will embrace change.

BRIAN O'HARA: The hard work is just beginning. But I believe at the end of this process, Minneapolis will have the best police department in the nation. Our city will be safer, and the police and all communities of this city will be more united than ever before.

COLLINS: The agreement includes guideposts for officer use of force policies and more community oversight. These types of changes are steps that several other police departments in the country are also promising to take because of consent decrees negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice. Legal experts say the Minneapolis agreement is an unprecedented step, though, for a state to take. Former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez, who helped enforce federal consent decrees, calls the Minneapolis plan impressive.

TOM PEREZ: I think it's really important for agreements to be court enforceable because if you don't have an agreement that's court enforceable, you don't have an agreement that's going to have staying power. And this agreement has it.

COLLINS: For decades, Michelle Gross has been pushing for police reform. She's head of Communities United Against Police Brutality and says she knows the agreement requires Minneapolis to collect and share more data on everything from officer misconduct to the race of drivers pulled over by officers. It also limits traffic stops for minor violations like a burned-out headlight. Gross says what's key will be the independent monitor who will chart the city's progress.

MICHELLE GROSS: The monitors are really the secret sauce for whether a consent decree is worth anything or not. You can put everything on paper and say, we're going to do this, and we're going to do that. But if you don't have any way to make sure it actually happens, then it's just a piece of paper.

COLLINS: Gross says the agreement addresses issues that residents have been bringing up for a long time, and that lives would have been spared if city officials had acted earlier. The changes could take years and are expected to cost the city millions of dollars. In addition, the Minneapolis Police Department is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Legal experts say any ensuing federal consent decree would likely strengthen and expand on the state's effort to create a new way of policing in the city. For NPR News, I'm Jon Collins in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Collins