Nothing has been simple about the drive to put a charter amendment aimed at reducing police misconduct on the Minneapolis general election ballot. The petition drive has suffered setback after setback in the six years since it first started. In 2012, petitions with about 3,000 signatures went up in smoke at Communities United Against Police Brutality office when the Walker Church burned. Minneapolis changed its charter in 2013, forcing the group to toss out the 1,600 signatures it had gathered and start again. And on Friday, the city council voted 9-3 against putting the amendment on the ballot even though the group had collected 15,000 signatures — about twice as many needed.
So you can imagine the frustration group leaders Michelle Gross and Dave Bicking felt when Hennepin County deputies tried to break up their press conference because it was blocking a hallway at City Hall. “Whose hall?” yelled Gross to the dozens of supporters and media gathered in the hallway. “Our hall,” chanted back her supporters. After a few minutes of chanting, officers relented and let the press conference continue.
“Once again being oppressed by the people who want to make sure that no changes happen in this city,” said Bicking, once officers had backed off.
“We are here because the council made a monumental mistake today,” said Gross, announcing a lawsuit to force the city council to put the amendment on the ballot. She called the vote “a hatchet job” on the people’s right to vote on the amendment while holding a sign that said “Hey City Council: Don’t Steal Our Vote!”
Weeding Out “Rogue Cops”
Video at top: Vote and news conference on police liability insurance charter amendment
Video at bottom: Complaint filed with State Auditor
If put on the ballot and passed, Gross says the amendment will give the city a new management tool to weed out “rogue cops,” who cost the city about $2 million a year in settlements for police misconduct. The amendment requires police officers to carry their own liability insurance and the city to pay the basic premium. However, when an officer’s premium rises because of misconduct, the officer would have to pay the premium increase out of his or her own pocket.
Gross says the city council cannot block the amendment from going on the ballot once it has the needed signatures. The suit filed in Hennepin County District Court seeks an order requiring the council to place the amendment on the ballot. “It will give us great pleasure when that city council has to retake this vote.”
Minneapolis has spent $21 million since 2003 to settle police misconduct cases, which Bicking considers a misuse of city money. So Gross has filed a complaint with the Minnesota State Auditor asking for an investigation. “We filed that complaint because we see a misuse of funds happening every time Minneapolis decides to defend and indemnify — cover with insurance — an officer who was not doing the job he was hired to do,” said Bicking.
The complaint specifically mentions a recent case where officer Blayne Lehner was sued for kicking a man in the face while he was handcuffed. The complaint says even though the officer was terminated and was no longer a city employee, the city paid out $360,000 to settle the case.