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Minneapolis and St. Paul have very different police reform stories

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Two recent articles show very different things happening in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The U.S. Department of Justice has just entered into a deal requiring Minneapolis to reform its police, who the DOJ says discriminate against Black and Indigenous people and those with behavioral health disorders.

Meanwhile, Ramsey County, which contains St. Paul, has seen significant changes in its policing behavior. The reason? In 2021, the district attorney, John Choi, announced he would no longer prosecute people for felonies arising from minor traffic stops.

The DOJ began investigating the Minneapolis PD after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer in 2020, according to the Associated Press. Many people had accused the department of civil rights violations, including excessive force. Floyd died of asphyxiation after an officer held him supine under his knee for almost 10 minutes.

Choi’s decision came after the death of Philando Castile in 2016, says the Vera Institute of Justice. Police pulled Castile over for a broken taillight, then things got out of control. The officer who killed Castile was acquitted, but it also came to light that police in the region had pulled him over 49 times in the previous few years – usually for minor, non-safety-related violations.

Many people of color complain that they are pulled over for minor violations on a routine basis. There is no evidence such stops contribute to public safety.

There is a growing, nationwide effort to get police to stop pulling people over for low-level infractions. These stops can put both the officer and the driver at risk while providing no obvious benefit to the public. Moreover, they are often racially motivated or have a discriminatory effect.

How did Choi’s decision affect policing in St. Paul?

The change worked. Choi worked with police departments throughout Ramsey County to implement his decision. However, the Vera Institute says that some departments continued to pull people over for things like minor equipment violations or registration infractions.

Interestingly, those departments that didn’t go along with the plan saw an increase in violent crime compared to those who did, according to Vera.

Ultimately, the change in policy did influence officers’ behavior. Before the policy change, about 25% of the traffic stops officers made were for non-safety violations. Now, they represent only 5% of stops.

What about Minneapolis?

It would be great if prosecutors in Minneapolis (and Wisconsin) were to implement similar changes. Eliminating minor traffic stops has reduced the appearance of racial disparities in traffic policing and freed officers up to spend more time on more serious issues.

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