Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has had enough of with the militarized "warrior cop" who treats every interaction with citizens as though we're a potential threat. So this month he announced that the city was going to ban police participation in "warrior-style" training that fosters paranoid overreactions and makes it more likely that innocent people will be shot.
In response, the Minneapolis Police Union has declared that Frey's order is unlawful and is partnering with a national organization to give officers this forbidden training for free.
It's not hard to understand why Frey would want to put the brakes on the warrior-cop mentality. This past weekend, Connecticut officials released surveillance video of two officers opening fire on an unarmed couple's car in New Haven as the man exits the automobile with his hands up. And that's just one recent example. A skim through our police coverage at Reason will net you story after story of officers choosing to shoot or punch or Tase people for the slightest of provocations. Even complying with police orders might not be enough to protect you, as the young man in New Haven discovered.
Fortunately, he wasn't injured. Others have not been so lucky. In March, North Carolina police shot and killed a man who appeared to be following their orders to put down a gun. In 2017, jurors in Arizona acquitted a Mesa officer who shot and killed a man who was attempting to follow the officer's orders to crawl down a hallway.
In the Minneapolis area Frey represents, Philando Castile's fatal shooting at the hands of a St. Anthony police officer became a national news story. Castile was abruptly shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez at a traffic stop after telling the officer he had a gun (which he had a permit to carry). Yanez was ultimately acquitted of any charges for the shooting.
Yanez had taken 20 hours of training in a program called "The Bulletproof Warror"—the kind of program Frey wants to stop. It encouraged the officer to treat all encounters as potential threats to his safety. By contrast, Yanez received all of two hours of training in de-escalation tactics.
The "warrior cop" mentality has also led to the use of violent, dangerous SWAT raids to execute basic search warrants in situations where they're not called for, often in the perpetuation of the drug war. This mimicking of "shock and awe" military-style raid tactics have led to innocent people—even children—hurt or killed.
And then, when the justice system attempts to hold officers responsible for these deadly overreactions, the training itself is invoked in court to justify these actions. One psychologist who teaches officers to see every encounter as a potential threat then presents himself as an expert witness on the stand, where he tells juries that it was reasonable for cops to fear for their lives regardless of whatever actions the citizens around them were taking. Yes, even if it turns out they're unarmed and completely innocent of any criminal behavior.
So Frey should be commended for trying to bring about an end to this sort of training. But the Minneapolis Police Union doesn't agree. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the police union, was undeterred on Wednesday, saying in an interview that he consulted with the union's attorneys, who said Frey's directive was unlawful. Kroll also defended the training, saying, "It's not about killing, it's about surviving."
Frey said in a statement that the city attorney's office was consulted during the drafting of the policy, and, "They are confident in its legal position."
Frey says that any officer taking this training in violation of the city's policy will be disciplined.
On Friday it looked like the two sides had come to an agreement, and Frey said that the union had "come around" and accepted the ban. But the union then put out a statement that said they had not come to such an agreement, and that the mayor and city had in fact agreed that no officer would be punished for going to any sort of off-duty training.
It's not entirely clear how Minneapolis could stop police officers from taking these courses on their own time, as long as they're not using any city resources and they're not getting paid for doing so, but perhaps we'll see.