MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis Police Department announced four policy changes Monday aimed at defusing conflicts between officers and the public that can turn deadly while holding officers more accountable for their actions.
Police Chief Janee Harteau said that the "sanctity of life" is now the cornerstone of her department's use-of-force policy. Officers must use de-escalation tactics whenever reasonably possible to get people to voluntarily comply with police orders and they must seek to avoid or minimize the use of force. They also have an explicit duty to intervene to try to prevent other officers from using force inappropriately and a duty to report any misconduct at an incident scene.
The changes come amid increased scrutiny nationwide of police use of force and how officers treat suspects, particularly African-Americans. Harteau says the changes were being developed before the fatal shooting by two white Minneapolis officers last November of Jamar Clark, a black 24-year-old whose death prompted protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement to block the street outside a police station for more than two weeks.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided in March not to charge the two officers involved in Clark's death. He said forensic evidence backed the officers' accounts that Clark was not handcuffed — as alleged by some witnesses — and that he had his hand on an officer's gun when he was shot. Some activists faulted the two officers for being too quick to take Clark down to the ground, turning what had started as an alleged domestic assault into a fatal confrontation.
At a news conference where she announced the changes, Harteau declined to speculate on how the police interaction with Clark might have played out differently if the new policies had been in place.
"Every situation is different, and we could 'what-if' on just about everything," said Harteau, who was flanked by Mayor Betsy Hodges and her top commanders.
Harteau said at the heart of the policy changes is letting officers know it's OK to slow down and even back up when faced with volatile situations, which she said will reduce the risk of injuries to themselves and to the public.
"I want everybody to go home safe. That's the mindset. It's about slowing things down when we can," the chief said.
Officers who violate the use-of-force guidelines could face disciplinary action.
Unresolved tensions over Clark's death helped fuel a new round of protests last month over the fatal shooting of another black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, during a traffic stop in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. No Minneapolis police officers were involved in that shooting.
Castile's girlfriend streamed the bloody aftermath live on Facebook. She said Castile was shot while reaching for his ID after advising St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a gun permit and was armed. Yanez's attorney has said the Latino officer thought Castile looked like a possible match for an armed robbery suspect and that Yanez was reacting to the presence of a gun.
This story has been updated to correct that the policy changes were announced Monday.