Heinzman: Minneapolis officers have right relationships, credibility

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says Minneapolis is much better prepared to deal with a confrontation such as that between the police and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Freeman said the Minneapolis police force has a better relationship with black people and better credibility and there’s a belief in the community that people will be treated fairly.
I think the relationships between the cops, the community and the prosecutors are much stronger here. There’s suspicion of individual cops, but in general there is the feeling the system will deal with situations fairly.
“Credibility can be lost fairly quickly, but I believe (with) our technology, our cameras and everything we have, we can do it far better. I can’t guarantee that,” Freeman said.
He told the Progressive Issues Forum in Bloomington Aug. 26 that he knows St. Louis County Attorney Bob McCullock, who is under fire for prosecuting the Ferguson case.
“I am confident he will do a fair job,” Freeman said.
Freeman said having only two black officers in a 56-member Ferguson force is unacceptable.
In his experience, however, it’s difficult to recruit people of different races because they are in demand for higher salaries elsewhere.
The Minneapolis police force has 15 percent of officers representing minorities.
In the case of the officer who fired shots at unarmed Brown, Freeman said, that officer isn’t talking because he could go to prison for life.
Freeman said there’s no question that the police get some leeway on these shooting cases. You have to prove the officer acted unreasonably as an officer to the degree of culpable negligence.
“If you shoot him in the back, that’s culpable negligence,” Freeman said. “In most cases I’ve seen, the cops acted with reasonable force.”
If an officer decides to shoot, he is instructed to shoot to kill, Freeman said.
On the other hand, a Minneapolis police officer knocked down a suspect and kicked him in the ribs, costing $600,000 in a settlement.
Freeman also questions the need for police to have tanks and body armor. There are too many cops using semiautomatic weapons with high velocities, although he understands the officers want to be protected, particularly during drug seizures.
He continues to be a critic of all of the guns in the area.
“There are way too many guns, and way too many kids have them,” Freeman said. “Critics say you have to have guns to protect themselves. These kids don’t have the judgment and the training to use the guns.
“I’ve become very aggressive about felony possession. You have the constitutional right to fire a gun until you commit a felony, and then you lost it. I want those folks to spend 60 months in prison. … That’s what the sentence is, but a lot of our judges won’t give it.”
Then Freeman warmed up. “I don’t have any sympathy for people packing heat. Get them off the street because we’ve shown, again and again, people who carry guns and (are) around guns and who are in groups around guns are people who shoot others or have shot themselves.”

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.