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Citing rampant gun violence, Minneapolis police ease pursuit policy

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara has relaxed the department’s pursuit policy to allow officers to chase fugitive suspects involved in certain firearms offenses, a change he says is intended to curbing endemic armed violence.

Under the new policy, a lawsuit can be filed when someone unlawfully discharges or points a weapon at someone, even in situations that result in no physical harm. Previous guidelines imposed strict parameters on when officers could seek permission to engage in a pursuit, often requiring there to be a victim.

“You could have a scenario – what happened – where the police are present and someone starts shooting a gun in the air from a car, takes off and gets on the freeway and they can’t not prosecute,” O’Hara said in an interview Friday. “It doesn’t send the right message. And I don’t think it meets the expectations of the community.”

The change, which took effect May 2, creates new exceptions for weapons offenses that O’Hara says will provide more clarity on how officers should handle various situations. As before, clearance for any prosecution must be granted by a supervisor who will weigh the “need for apprehension” against the risk to officers and the public.

Minneapolis police still won’t prosecute teens for car rides or property crimes, for example, without an underlying threat of violence.

The policy revisions follow years of increasingly stringent restrictions on vehicle chases after a series of high-profile Twin Cities subway crashes that elected leaders said unnecessarily endangered lives.

Some proponents of police reform have questioned why O’Hara would make such a change without consulting the community first — especially at a time when the department is seeking to rebuild trust amid the Department of Justice’s settlement agreement. Minnesota Human Rights.

“Now is not the time to relax the prosecution policy,” said Dave Bicking, vice president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “It just sets us up for more tragedy.”

In a 2019 case, 50-year-old Jose Angel Madrid Salcido of Minneapolis was fatally injured when an unlicensed driver fleeing a police check smashed the car he was sitting in, pinning Salcido inside.

Later that year, the MPD revised its pursuit policy so that officers could only give chase in situations where they believed a suspect had committed or was about to commit “a serious and violent crime. or a serious offence”, such as murder and attempted murder, sexual relations. crimes, kidnappings, carjackings and arson.

However, it authorized a prosecution if the suspect’s driving was “so obviously reckless that the driver would pose an imminent and potentially life-threatening danger to the public if not apprehended”.

Mayor Jacob Frey has vowed to review the policy after the 2021 death of Leneal Frazier, an innocent motorist struck and killed at a North Side intersection by a Minneapolis police officer who was pursuing a carjacking suspect.

Former officer Brian Cummings was driving nearly 80 mph through residential streets when he hit Frazier’s SUV at the intersection of N. Lyndale and 41st Avenue. Cummings, a 14-year veteran of the force, was charged three months after the collision with second-degree manslaughter and criminal homicide while driving a vehicle. He pleaded guilty in April to criminal homicide while driving a vehicle and is expected to be sentenced on June 22.

An MPD spokesperson noted at the time that the prosecution was sanctioned under department policy because the driver was suspected of multiple violent crimes. But Cummings also blew through a red light, the charges allege, with no regard for the safety of bystanders.

According to departmental records, the crash resulted in only a minor change in prosecution policy language regarding the supervisory review.

O’Hara told the Star Tribune that he doesn’t think residents will dispute the specific crimes that officers are starting a pursuit on, just if they drive them to safety.

“No matter what you’re prosecuting someone for, it can’t be reckless. That’s the main thing,” he said, adding that officers should exercise extreme discretion. “It is not because we have a list of criteria, which can allow [you to chase] doesn’t mean a supervisor has to authorize it.”

He promised to support the decisions of department heads who choose not to prosecute or to terminate lawsuits they deem dangerous.

The new policy directive contributed to last week’s bust of a group of minors wanted in connection with a drive-by shooting that damaged the Minneapolis Public Schools administration headquarters.

Officers responded to 911 calls reporting a dozen shots fired in the 2100 block of Girard Avenue N. on the afternoon of May 15, and shots pierced a cafe window at the Davis Center.

Surveillance footage and a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter helped track four teenagers who led police on a chase in a stolen Kia in south Minneapolis, sometimes trailing through the car windows. At one point, the miners jumped out of the car and fled on foot.

O’Hara was nearby when he heard radio traffic about the chase and rushed to the scene. He joined responding officers handcuffing a boy on the sidewalk, according to body camera footage released by police. The 80-second video, first obtained by KSTP-TV, shows O’Hara running down an alley past two subordinates and chasing another juvenile suspect on foot.

Credit: Minneapolis Police Department

Video (20:00): Body camera footage of Minneapolis Police Officer Joel Hagen shows Chief Brian O’Hara chasing down four juvenile suspects wanted for shooting at a Minneapolis public schools building on May 15, 2023.

Investigators found two firearms inside the stolen Kia. Three minors were arrested, while two boys – ages 14 and 15 – were later charged by the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office. Juvenile records for those under 16 are not public.

“These minors are a danger to themselves and anyone around them,” O’Hara said in a news release welcoming the arrests.

Under previous guidelines, officers would not have been permitted to engage in this pursuit.

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