June 19, 2023

DOJ Report Highlights Importance of Pre-Trial Data, Transparency

DOJ Report Highlights Importance of Pre-Trial Data, Transparency

On Friday, June 16, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of its two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. They analyzed about 187,000 traffic stops spanning five years, from November 2016 to August 2022. The DOJ’s findings were front- page news nationwide. And while they may have come as a shock to some, to people living in Minneapolis, the results were hardly surprising.

For the first time in the history of the DOJ, the department found that the MPD disproportionately stops both Black and Native American residents. The report found that police stop Black people 6.5 times more often than whites, and Native Americans 7.9 times more often.  

It was not, however, the first time that a local study had found evidence of bias. In fact, the DOJ’s results validate similar findings by the ACLU of Minnesota in 2015 – the year before the date range examined by the Department of Justice.

Unsurprisingly, the MPD’s racial bias and harm does not stop there. The DOJ found that Minneapolis police disproportionately use excessive force against Black and Native American residents during traffic and pedestrian stops – often in situations where it is unjustified and unnecessary. Instances of excessive force routinely involve the use of dangerous techniques and weapons against people who are alleged to have committed petty offenses, and sometimes no offense at all.

In particular, the DOJ found that MPD used dangerous neck restraints in nearly 200 instances between 2016 and 2022, and 44 of those instances did not result in any arrest. A significant number of these instances occurred after George Floyd was murdered using this same technique.

The report contains a multitude of anecdotes that vividly and specifically illustrate the rampant, racist abuse at MPD. We encourage everyone to read the stories and understand what these statistics look like in our lives, in practice.

For Minnesota Freedom Fund, the report highlights what our staff and clients have long known. It also underscores the importance of transparency into all aspects of the criminal legal system. And the public outrage following the report’s release suggests reasons why policing and carceral institutions might wish to keep incriminating data out of the public eye.

This is exactly what is happening in Minnesota with pre-trial data. Even in the face of public records requests, Minnesota courts are shielding data showing the number of people incarcerated pre-trial because they cannot afford bail, the lengths of their incarceration, and the racial disparities that exist in pre-trial jail populations, length of detention, and bail amounts assigned.  

Just as it’s critical that the public have access to DOJ’s findings with respect to MPD, it’s essential that our community have a window into what happens to our neighbors – again, disproportionately Black and Native – after they are stopped, searched, and arrested by our racist, biased police department. In many cases, the arrests described in the report are followed by long periods of pre-trial detention, often because those individuals are unable to pay bail amounts assigned to them.

Pre-trial detention is the next step in a process the DOJ has found to be dangerous and racially biased. Unfortunately, pre-trial jailing in Minnesota reflects a nationwide status quo, and does not currently receive the attention and scrutiny to which MPD has been subject. But that doesn’t mean jails and courts should be allowed to operate in the dark, outside of public view and protected from scrutiny.

We have the power to fight for full transparency. Minnesota Freedom Fund Action supports legislation that would require Minnesota counties to make an annual report of their pre-trial data to the state legislature, so that our pre-trial system can face the same scrutiny to which MPD has been subjected. Subscribe to our email list to receive updates about our ongoing fight for data transparency at the Minnesota Legislature, and visit the DOJ website to read the full investigation.

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