11/12/2004 Newsletter


  • CUAPB Book Signing: Walking with the Devil
  • Use of Tasers on Children

Michael Quinn speaks and reads from his important new book
Saturday, November 13
4:00 p.m.
May Day Books
301 Cedar Ave S
For more information, call 612-333-4719
If you missed our book signing last month, you have another opportunity to see former Minneapolis police officer Michael Quinn discuss his groundbreaking new book, Walking With The Devil: What Bad Cops Don't Want You To Know and Good Cops Won't Tell You.

Here's a wonderful article from this week's Pulse on Michael Quinn and his book.

Michael Quinn Cuts the Thin Blue Line
by Lydia Howell

There are two kinds of courage, and Michael Quinn has both. Physical courage is a job requirement for police officers. What every rookie is unprepared for is the necessity for ethical courage in the face of what every cop understands as "the Code of Silence:" never snitch on another cop. Ever.

Michael Quinn, a veteran of 23 years with the Minneapolis Police Department, served over 300 high-risk warrants--without ever killing a suspect--and led many dangerous raids in the "drug war." Now Quinn has written a book: Walking With The Devil: What Bad Cops Don't Want You To Know and Good Cops Won't Tell You.

"We don't prepare rookies for the stresses of the job," said the soft-spoken Quinn. "I think the code of silence is the biggest [problem]. We don't prepare them because we want to pretend it doesn't exist. Or that if it does, they'll learn how to deal with it. This is a huge mistake, because the first thing every rookie learns is that you depend on other officers around you for your life and safety. Without those other cops, you're out there on your own."

Quinn comes from a family of police officers: his father's 40 years in law-enforcement included 20 years in the MPD; a brother-in-law was a cop and one sister still is. Quinn is now a Federal Marshall.

As both a journalist and an activist, I've been deeply concerned about police brutality since the late 1970s in Texas and in Minneapolis since 1988. I came to Quinn's book with a mix of skepticism and hope, rooted in work on dozens of police brutality cases since 1977.

Quinn's aim was to write "a better police ethics textbook," and he has created a compelling personal account of policing that raises crucial issues that community activists have struggled to see taken seriously. He walks a tightrope, describing concrete examples of cop corruption, abuse and what's called "creative report writing," while not naming names. Identifying individual officers would have certainly brought charges of sensationalism, distracting from Quinn's hard-won and important insights.

"Your field officer tells you right off the bat, "Forget everything you've learned in the academy. This is the street way and this is how we're gonna do business." They're telling you what worked to keep them alive in stressful situations, so it's not entirely a bad thing," he says.

Every rookie's challenge he says is to "incorporate" the street experience with school-knowledge. Quinn's book includes heart-thumping incidents with the inevitable mistakes a young cop makes grappling with the physical power society grants the police in order to do their job. He describes the police rookies' rite of passage: a kind of heartbreak of ideals when introduced to the Code.

"What are you going to do when your partner--who's saved your life--does something really wrong right in front of you? Are you going to go to Internal Affairs or Civilian Review and report it?Quinn poses the burning question about good cops covering for bad cops. "No, you're not. It doesn't happen like that."

Inside police departments, peer pressure takes on an almost overwhelming intensity, that Quinn's book makes viscerally real. Understandable rookie mistakes, theft by cops and the beating of handcuffed suspects are all equally swept away under the Code. Breaking it means being ostracized by fellow officers, which can not only wreck a career but can cost a cop's life, if he or she can't count on having backup on the streets.

Police Federation president John Delmonico dismisses Quinn's accounts of police misconduct, and the last two MPD Chiefs, Robert Olsen and John Laux, refused to comment. Quinn asserts that his friend and former squad partner, Deputy Chief Tim Dolan, was misquoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as disparaging his book.
"Quinn's brave," former MPD Chief Tony Bouza told the Star-Tribune. "There are two things you don't write about:  'testi-lying' and breaking the Code. Mike writes about both." Bouza also earned fellow officers' ire with his own truth-telling book and articles.

After the Jordan neighborhood blew up, ignited by the non-fatal police shooting of an 11-year-old African-American boy, Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), other community organizations and North Minneapolis ministers pushed for federal mediators to step in. After a lengthy review, mediators came to agree with Quinn: Part of what creates police brutality comes down to physical training.

Quinn notes that Minnesota has some of the highest requirements for police: a minimum of two years of college and even a bachelor's degree for some departments. For 18 months, he worked in the Police Corps Academy and lauds much of the skills training, but he also sees important gaps.

For one thing, cops learn physical control-techniques wearing sweats and socks on a padded mat, not in full uniform, which Quinn says "is not as realistic as it should be. Imagine wrestling with someone while wearing an extra 30 pounds of equipment, including a gun belt, pepper-spray canister and a large, metal flashlight."
Officers are required to do about 16 hours of annual continuing education which Quinn describes as "mostly legislative updates and firearms."

"Rookies are at their peak of physical skills, but nothing's done to maintain them," Quinn explains. "A 10-year veteran average officer could not perform at a 50-percent level of those skills--the takedowns and compliance-holds. If we don't make them maintain them, they don't have those skills to use. Then they resort to whatever they do at the time. That's where you get a lot of excessive force complaints."

What some might dismiss as a "soft skill"--communication--is another area Quinn says needs improvement, in order to avoid excessive force. While saying, he isn't questioning the shooting at all of Barbara Schneider, he asks, "Why did it take that to get a special program to teach Minneapolis police how to deal with emotionally disturbed people? It should be part of our training. To me, it's as critical as teaching people how to use firearms correctly."

June 12, 2000: Barbara Schneider was a middle-aged white woman struggling with mental illness. Police were called to her Uptown apartment by neighbors saying her radio was too loud and expressing concern for her mental state. Officers rammed opened her locked apartment door, forced their way into her bedroom where they found her holding a paring knife. Police shot her three times and she died.

"The real critical incidents are typically built around communications and how cops get control," Quinn emphasizes.  Critical incidents refer to those where police use force, especially lethal force. "If we did more work in our police academies, especially around crisis communication, we could avoid some of this [excessive force]."

With rising immigrant populations, communication also comes into play, sometimes intersecting with mental illness or physical disability. The following incidents, taken from CUAPB's website, illustrate the problem:
April 28. 2001: Ephran Depaz, a Mexican immigrant, was the passenger in a car driven by a frightened, undocumented immigrant who led police on a low-speed pursuit, ending in a crash into a telephone pole. An officer approached the passenger side, demanding Depaz get out of the car. Partially deaf and speaking no English, Depaz may also have been unconscious from the crash. The officer shot Depaz in the neck, claiming he reached under the car seat. The City of Minneapolis paid a $250,000 settlement to the Depaz family.

March 6, 2002: Abu Kassin Jeilani was a refugee, suffering from mental illness after his experiences during the war in his homeland. He wandered from his high-rise apartment, incoherently mumbling, carrying a crowbar and machete, followed by friends. Police were called and Somali people at the scene asked to intervene, as Jeilani spoke no English. Police refused. Within 11 minutes of their arrival, three Minneapolis officers shot Jeilani 15 times, including, eyewitnesses reported, after he was lying on the ground. I was on the scene within an hour, interviewed witnesses and saw Jeilani's uncovered body.

Building a relationship between the Somali community and MPD is being attempted, but has been strained by the post-9/11 "war on terrorism."

No one disputes that police work is dangerous. Since the mid-1800s, 197 Minnesota cops have been killed in the line of duty. To put this in some perspective, CUAPB cites 30 people killed under questionable circumstances by Minnesota law enforcement just since 1989. They ranged in age from 17 to in their 70s, most of them unarmed people of color.

The 1994 Crime Bill mandates that Department of Justice gather statistics on people killed by law enforcement. As of 1999, DOJ reported an annual average of 350 "justifiable homicides" by police nationwide, but gives no names, dates, locations or descriptions of events, notes Karen Saari, of the Stolen Lives Project, based in New York City. Three-fourths of those killed by police are people of color.

Quinn asserts that racial bias rarely plays a role in excessive force but takes on other police policies that do. The communication strategy he calls "verbal judo" is one.

"You've made a traffic stop and tell the driver to get out because his license and plates are suspended. He refuses. You've got three choices: Drag him out. Yell at him. Or do verbal judo, which is telling him what the situation's options are, offering a solution," Quinn explains. "But, too many times, cops decide ahead 'This is the way it's going to go. Period.' Communicating more fully, there might be another resolution that works just as well."

We both agree that too often officers immediately escalate a situation, rather than try to de-escalate it, making excessive force more likely to occur.

"I think the reason that's happening is because only cops are dictating what you're being taught. I think that's a mistake," Quinn says, offering what some will call a radical solution and others will call overdue. "The community should be able to go into the academies, watch what's being taught ... and give feedback."

Quinn's book enumerates what he calls "10 myths of policing," some of which relate to communication skills, community standards and issues that activists regularly raise around police abuses.

One myth is "Swearing is a necessary part of the job." I ask him about this as well as racial slurs.

"You can't communicate clearly if you're throwing the F-ingheimer in there. Some cops say you need the shock value to 'get their attention.' I don't buy that anymore, but I used to," he grins sheepishly, then, soberly continues. "When you use words with racial connotations or other strong emotions, those emotions are generated in yourself and the other person--raising the anxiety level. What you want to do is resolve the situation without it getting worse. Swear words, racial words, homophobic words, sexist words don't help with anybody."

"Community policing" has been a buzzword since the early 1990s. In Minneapolis, one aspect of fighting crime is called CODEFOR: police "targeting" their attention in certain neighborhoods, making as many arrests as possible, as Quinn explains.

"I don't think that it's racial profiling or racist cops, because when you target a neighborhood with a lot of drug violence, it's usually a black and Hispanic neighborhood. A majority of those arrested will be black and Hispanic people. It ends up being a racial issue," he says.

Quinn points to research by the Hennepin County African-American Men's Project: 34 percent of Minneapolis black men aged 18-30 have arrest records as a result of CODEFOR. Other research by Minnesota Crime and Justice found that 90 percent of misdemeanor arrests were never even charged. But Quinn recognizes the stigma of an arrest record remains, haunting a large portion of that community.

"Police performance is based on the total number of arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, car-stops, DUIs," he said. "Nobody, as far as I know, goes back and says: You had 10 arrests, how many were actually charged? If we started doing that, we'd find that officers that make lots of arrests but are not getting people charged, it's because they're not 'good' arrests." He explains there is no formal "arrest quota" but an insidious pressure.

"You get more points for a felony arrest than a misdemeanor--even if it's charged as a misdemeanor. We could more accurately judge officers by their impact on the community. But, that's harder to do."

That requires changing a distrustful and hostile relationship between police and inner city neighborhoods. Former MPD chief Bouza compares the current dynamic to the police as an "occupying army" in largely minority communities. This raises another of Quinn's myths of policing: People only respond to fear.

"People that fear you are not going to cooperate with you. If they fear the people who are supposed to be helping them, they're not calling those people for help. [Some] officers create a sense of fear," Quinn said.

"Black leather gloves in the summertime. Mirror sunglasses so you can't see their eyes. The one I get absolutely wild about, is that some cops refuse to shake hands with people on the street because they want to set themselves apart ... to come across as someone more to be afraid of than to partner with," he says. "Cops can't get their job done without the participation of the community."

I've no doubt Quinn could handle himself on the street but, in two hours of conversation, he doesn't show a speck of the gratuitous intimidation I've often witnessed, even as a crime victim. With most of his extended family, Quinn has lived in Minneapolis all his life and has "always felt like a part of the city." He asserts that the motto of police must return to "protect and serve" rather than "convict and incarcerate."

What is most striking is Quinn's call for more transparency in the investigation of police brutality. His suggestions from his own Internal Affairs experience echo the observations of activists.

"I saw a number of investigations that just flat-out did not ask the tough questions," he said. "Leads were never followed up. Witnesses never contacted. When there's physical evidence and the complaint's not sustained? You have witnesses and all these people are lying? I don't think there's a lot of that going on, but it's enough to create doubt."

Mike Quinn sees that the Code can only be challenged, incident by incident, by each officer. His book Walking With The Devil makes clear a different kind of peer-pressure--disapproval of unethical behavior--which can back officers up in doing the right thing. Plus, he urges officers to do a kind of  "intervention" in moments where things are going wrong.

"We have to teach cops to step in prior to a partner getting out of hand. Good cops already do this, saying 'Let me handle it,'" he says. "I've had officers grab my arms and say 'That's enough, Mike. You got him. It's over.' That's what we should be teaching cops."

About the new MPD Chief, Bill McManus, Quinn said that "he's an outsider coming in and we need to give him a chance. He's instituting programs improving professional standards and accountability. I've heard he's got good instincts about people. The question will be, of course, if it's a transparent process."


EDITOR'S NOTE: Research has shown that the use of Tasers on children is dangerous and the practice is prohibited in Canada and other countries.

Miami police use stun gun on 6-year-old kid
(11-11) 17:57 PST MIAMI (AP) --

Police used a stun gun on a 6-year-old boy in his principal's office because he was wielding a piece of glass and threatening to hurt himself, officials said Thursday.

The boy, who was not identified, was shocked with 50,000 volts on Oct. 20 at Kelsey Pharr Elementary School.

Principal Maria Mason called 911 after the child broke a picture frame in her office and waved a piece of glass, holding a security guard back.

When two Miami-Dade County police officers and a school officer arrived, the boy had already cut himself under his eye and on his hand.

The officers talked to the boy without success. When the boy cut his own leg, one officer shocked him with a Taser and another grabbed him to prevent him from falling, police said.

He was treated and taken to a hospital, where he was committed for psychiatric evaluation.

"By using the Taser, we were able to stop the situation, stop him from hurting himself," police spokesman Juan DelCastillo told The Miami Herald.

The case was under review.

Communities United Against Police Brutality
3104 16th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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