Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Hijacking Of Local Control And Police Reform By Professional And Managerial Frauds

nakedcapitalism |  The Minneapolis City Council voted to disband the city’s police department on June 26, a little more than a month after George Floyd died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin, along with three other officers who were there when Floyd was killed, has since been fired from the force and is now awaiting trial for Floyd’s death.

The city council vote does not automatically mean Minneapolis will no longer have a police department, of course. After a series of steps, the public will be asked to vote in November on an amendment regarding whether or not this course of action is the right one.

In June, a competing vision of police reform had been on the table in Minneapolis. Just as community-led initiatives were gaining traction, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced in June that his department would be using “real-time data” to overhaul its operations.
The work would be driven not by local grassroots groups, but instead by a Chicago-based company called Benchmark Analytics. Chief Arradondo announced on June 10 that the Minneapolis Police Department “would contract with Benchmark Analytics to identify problematic behavior early,” according to local NBC affiliate KARE 11.

Red flags flew up instantly, however, when this arrangement was made public.
For one thing, Benchmark Analytics is a private firm that promises to deliver an “all-in-one solution to advance police force management,” according to the company’s website, primarily through the use of algorithms that supposedly predict which officers may end up behaving “problematic[ally]” on the job.

This approach was at odds with the reallocation of resources from the police department to social services that many community leaders in Minneapolis and other cities are pushing for.
Another bone of contention involved funding, as it was reported that Benchmark Analytics’ reform model would be paid for by the Minneapolis Foundation, a philanthropic group led by a former mayor of the city, R.T. Rybak.

Activists, however, quickly seized upon the fact that not only did the proposed contract with Benchmark Analytics appear to have materialized without any public oversight, but Rybak himself is a founding board member of the firm. This prompted the Racial Justice Network to launch a petition criticizing “conflicts of interest” in the Minneapolis Foundation’s involvement in police reform.

On June 25, Rybak announced that the Minneapolis Foundation “has dropped its involvement.” A Minneapolis Police Department spokesman also said that “the department is trying to find alternative funding” for the Benchmark Analytics program; Mayor Jacob “Frey said if the city doesn’t find other funders, it will see if the program can be done with existing money.”

It seems unclear so far whether or not another funding source for Benchmark Analytics has been found. But in a July 14 interview with Minnesota Public Radio, while Mayor Frey did not mention Benchmark Analytics by name, he did tell radio host Cathy Wurzer that his plans for police reform will center on an “early intervention system that… uses evidence and data gathered by the University of Chicago.” (This description seems to align with the work of Benchmark Analytics, which is owned in part by the University of Chicago.)

Frey told Wurzer that the data gathered is intended to help the Minneapolis Police Department “weed… bad apples out” by predicting “which officers are more likely to have some sort of critical incident in the future.”

The push to bring in Benchmark Analytics was not the first time either Rybak or the Minneapolis Foundation has attempted to use power and wealth to push privatization plans on city residents—even though they often claim they are acting on behalf of marginalized people of color.

For evidence of how this approach can fail the public, look no further than the Minneapolis Public Schools, where a similar cast of characters and strategies have already been used to shake up the district’s schools. These “reform” efforts took Minneapolis schools down a failed path, and they stand as a warning sign of how attempts to rehabilitate police forces, in Minneapolis and elsewhere, can be subject to the same sort of misguided thinking and exploitation by opportunists.