Biden Indicts the Minneapolis Police


Minneapolis police officers stand in line as they are confronted by protesters in Minneapolis on April 11.



Photo:

kerem yucel/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Derek Chauvin

awaits his murder sentence at a Minnesota Correctional Facility, yet the federal government spared hardly a moment before shifting its scrutiny toward his former colleagues. A new Justice Department probe of the Minneapolis Police Department is targeting the city’s officers in an effort to prove the Democratic narrative of “systemic” police racism.

Attorney General

Merrick Garland

on Wednesday announced a pattern-or-practice investigation of Minneapolis police. Federal investigators in coming months will examine the department’s record and policing methods. If they find behavior they dislike, they have the power to force reform of the department through a consent decree. Mr. Garland referred to the process as a matter of straightforward oversight, saying “good officers welcome accountability.”

Yet Minneapolis police are right to suspect that Washington is probing them with a foregone conclusion. In his address after Mr. Chauvin’s conviction Tuesday, President

Biden

said his Administration’s next step would be “confronting head-on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing.” The man who drafted the 1994 crime bill that led to the arrest of countless black drug users is now claiming racism is endemic among American police.

Last May then-Attorney General

William Barr

launched a federal civil-rights probe into the death of

George Floyd

in police custody, and that investigation continues. But Democrats are now expanding the charge of wrongdoing to the entire department, seeking proof that Mr. Chauvin’s actions represent the culture of policing today. No matter that the Minneapolis police chief since 2017, Medaria Arradondo, testified for the prosecution in the Chauvin trial and has pushed to reform certain police practices like choke holds.

The weight of suspicion on police under pattern-or-practice investigations often leads officers under scrutiny to pull back on protecting public safety. A June 2020 study by economists

Tanaya Devi

and

Roland Fryer

found that federal probes after “viral incidents” similar to the Floyd killing decreased police actions by almost 90% in Chicago and 54% in Riverside, Calif. The authors estimate that such pullbacks led to nearly 900 excess homicides and 34,000 felonies across five cities in the two years after each Justice investigation began.

The burden on police doesn’t end when the probe does. The consent decrees that often follow pattern-or-practice investigations usually require departments to pay for external monitors and new training regimens, for whatever period a federal judge certifies. The evidence that this improves police practices is scant, but we know they increase crime.

The impact on Minneapolis could be particularly grave, as the city has experienced a sustained crime spike since the Floyd killing and ensuing riots. Violent crime increased by 21% in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Disorder in the streets has led residents to rethink the antipolice fervor of last summer. The Minneapolis City Council voted to disband its police department last June, but it later opted to retain officers after residents spoke up in months of public hearings. Minneapolis police were deployed in force before the announcement of the Chauvin verdict Tuesday, in case of riots after an acquittal.

The new Justice Department investigation resumes a trend begun during the Obama Administration, which launched 23 pattern-or-practice probes of local police. The probe may win Messrs. Biden and Garland plaudits from the political left that is pushing an antipolice narrative. But residents of Minneapolis could pay the price in more crime as police stand down from protecting the public.

Wonder Land: When public officials desert any standards for public or personal behavior, expect violence. Image: Michael Reynolds/Shutterstock

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Appeared in the April 22, 2021, print edition.



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