Expert Alert

Justice Department report revives police reform discussion in Minneapolis

Portrait of Professor Phelps sitting in front of a bookshelf.
Associate Professor Michelle Phelps. Credit: Lisa Miller.

On June 16, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its report on the Minneapolis Police Department, finding that MPD engaged in extensive civil rights violations in the years before and after the police murder of George Floyd. This week, DOJ staff are in Minneapolis to gather public testimony about the consent decree they will negotiate with the City of Minneapolis to reform policing in the city.

Michelle Phelps, an associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts specializing in sociology and law, is available to provide expert commentary on the DOJ report and potential consent decree.

Michelle Phelps, Ph.D.

“In April 2021, the Justice Department launched an investigation of systematic bias in the MPD’s operations. These ‘pattern and practice’ investigations began in 1994 as a way to allow the federal government to force local police departments to address systemic police misconduct through court-negotiated settlement agreements.”

“Similar to last year’s report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the federal investigators found evidence of pervasive racial disparities in police stops, searches and use-of-force, deprivation of protesters’ First Amendment rights and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The problem, according to investigators, was not simply rank-and-file officers’ misconduct, but the ways unconstitutional policing had been tacitly sanctioned in the department (and city) by its woefully inadequate training, supervision and accountability systems.” 

“The two potential consent decrees — negotiated with the MDHR and the DOJ — represent the first time in Minneapolis’ history that police reform will be subject to oversight from the courts, opening up a chance at more effective responses to problems that have plagued the department for generations, including a culture of violence among officers and a lack of accountability. However, such investigations and legal oversight have a mixed track record of producing change, in part because they face external barriers such as the police officers’ collective bargaining agreements. Some critics also worry that the reform process will result in more city funding being deployed to support the MPD. Yet the DOJ report also suggests that they might fight for something new: increased city spending on alternatives to the police.” 

Michelle Phelps is an associate professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Since 2016, she has been researching attempts to reform and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. Her book, The Minneapolis Reckoning: Race, Violence, and the Politics of Policing in America, is due out May 2024 with Princeton University Press.

Media Contacts

Christopher Kelly

University Public Relations