On February 26, 2021, the Civic Caucus interviewed Walt McClure, senior fellow and chair at the Center for Policy Design , on his proposed strategy for reforming the Minneapolis Police Department -how thinking about large systems and incentives can transform ideas on policing reform.
His strategy has two major steps:
1) Complete makeover of the policing approach. Switch from a warrior-based system to a procedural justice system of policing. It involves training and managing officers to consistently de-escalate all unnecessary use of force; to commit that all lives come back safe-not only officers, but also suspects and bystanders; to uniformly give all people respect, patience and voice in all encounters with police; and to engage in community work and interactions that build trust between police and the community.
2) Complete makeover of the personnel. The mayor and police chief must have the power to remove warrior-minded officers who are not committed to the new system. McClure believes if we want police reform, we must reform the city's governance structure to having an executive mayor and a legislative Council, as called for by the Minneapolis Charter Commission's proposed amendment.
00:00 - The Civic Caucus. (Janis Clay)
00:55 - Introduction. (Paul Ostrow)
Walt McClure has a fascinating history. He has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and physics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Florida State University. He worked with matter in the smallest possible systems and has now evolved into working on the largest systems. He did groundbreaking work on health care in the 1980s, including working on HMOs (health maintenance organizations) and how to reform the health care industry.
Walt is now thinking about large system architecture, an effort to develop a systematic discipline for policy design and analysis of large social systems. He does this work as senior fellow and chair at the Center for Policy Design.
(A complete biography of McClure can be found following the Discussion section.)
03:00 - Opening Remarks: A Strategy to Make Policing Work for All of Us.
The following is an abridged version of McClure's opening remarks. His complete prepared opening remarks can be found here .
McClure: The outrageous death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, watched around the nation and the world, has finally awakened white Americans to what black Americans have been trying to tell us for decades. We have a broken system of policing in this country.
But let's be accurate. When I say broke, I do not mean broken everywhere. We have excellent officers and police departments across this country and they are just as appalled at these outrageous Minneapolis officers as the rest of us and deeply angered that these unfit officers besmirch all officers and their honored profession. If you doubt this, please watch the heartfelt discussion of the death of Mr. Floyd by the excellent police chiefs and mayors of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. Joint Community Conversation with the Mayors and Police Chiefs of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center .
To all you good officers, our deepest gratitude and respect for your courageous service and protection. We all want to support our police. But that support must stop being blind. We do not support our police by supporting bad policing and police, we support them by supporting good policing and police and eliminating bad policing and police .
Our Police Department needs transformative change.
It is decades overdue.
Despite an excellent chief and many excellent officers, the Minneapolis Police Department has been exceptionally broken for decades, dominated by bad policing and police. How do we know? Thousands of complaints have piled up at the Police Review Board and the city has and is paying out millions of dollars in damages to victims of police violence and brutality. Mr. Floyd is only the latest, but he has awakened us all.Our Police Department needs transformative change. It is decades overdue.
Mr. Floyd has given us opportunity; let us honor him by seizing it. Unfortunately, that opportunity is at risk of being overwhelmed by politics. There is widespread agreement on the need for major change. There is also widespread agreement on the goals. But unfortunately, the discussion has become polarized between two sides:
- Those who champion abolishing or underfunding the police, which I and many others regard as dangerous to the safety of our citizens; and
- Those who advocate a grab-bag of well-intended token reforms - no chokeholds, de-escalation training, etc., which, because unlikely to produce any enduring serious change, I regard as more distraction than solution.
Lacking in all this political clamor has been any concrete vision for what the future of public safety should look like in Minneapolis and concrete practical steps to get there.
There is a third position, a practical strategy with a concrete vision for what our transformed police system should look like and steps to get there , a thorough-going transformation likely to sustainably achieve the goals we all seek. I'll first set out those goals, then describe the strategy:
Any serious transformative strategy must achieve the following goals:
- Goal 1: Enduring reduction in undue violence and racial bias by police , both actual and perceived,
- Goal 2: Reduced crime, and criminal violence,
- Goal 3. Increased trust, cooperation and support from the community, particularly communities of color, that our officers need and deserve.
I remind us these are not only the goals that racial justice advocates and the awakened broader public seek, they are the goals that good officers seek.
Now let me describe the strategy.
Because the goal is enduring systemic transformation, we need more than the kind of token reforms that for decades have produced no change. We need a comprehensive systems approach. By this I mean we need to redesign the structure and incentives within and upon the Police Department to reward good policing and extinguish bad policing. People and organizations must behave the way the system they are in rewards and punishes them, so if they are performing badly, we need to redesign the structure and incentives of the system to reward them for the goals we seek. (You can see our website for more on this systems approach to policy design: www.centerforpolicy.org . )
Our strategy is therefore a thoroughgoing makeover of the Minneapolis Police Department . There are the two big necessary steps, and I caution that either one alone will fail and has. Both are necessary:
- Complete makeover of the policing approach ; and
- Complete makeover of personnel.
You can find a full description on the website of my organization, the Center for Policy Design:
We invite everyone's help to flesh it out and get it up on the public radar.
The first step is a new policing approach often termed "procedural justice policing." It rejects the aggressive, adversarial so-called "warrior-minded approach" that has dominated the Minneapolis Department for years. This newprocedural justice approach has actually been operativein Camden, New Jersey, since 2013 with impressive success, superior to the warrior approach in every aspect, including (a) significantly reduced crime, (b)reduced police violence and racial bias, (c)increased solved crimes, and (d) improved community trust and cooperation.
"Warrior policing" is a dominant policing approach rampant in police departments and state police across the nation. It is not just a problem in Minneapolis, it is a national problem and national disgrace.
Warrior policing says the way to reduce crime is so-called "strength", heavy-handed force and heavy-handed sentences. It is about conducting a "war on crime," overwhelmingly militaristic and adversarial. The warrior premise is that every encounter is opportunity to look for criminal activity, and if anyone looks suspicious "in the officer's opinion," they should be stopped on any pretext no matter how trivial-like a non-working tail light or resemblance to a suspect-and interrogated aggressively, while looking for suspicious reactions or criminal evidence.
For example, when the North Carolina State Police adopted warrior policing, the number of traffic stops doubled from 400,000 to 800,000 a year. The yield in criminal evidence was less than 0.01 percent and the percentage of angry and humiliated citizens more than 99.9 percent. "Officer opinion'' opens the door freely to racial bias. In Minneapolis, 54 percent of traffic stops and 78 percent of searches are of Black Americans, though they constitute only 19 percent of the city's residents.
This force-prone, racially biased warrior approach,
this war on crime, has failed this country abjectly.
There is a plethora of warrior training consultants, manuals, videos and classes used by police departments and security agencies all over the country. Emphasis is on weapons, and asserting dominance and control by intimidation and force. Little emphasis is placed on interpersonal skills with citizens and suspects, or on fairness, service, prevention, or de-escalating all unnecessary force; indeed, such emphasis is often dismissed as "weak." We hear buzzwords like unshackle the police and dominate the battle space.
This force-prone, racially biased warrior approach has failed this country abjectly. How do we know?
- First, (starting with Rodney King in 1994) we see increasing citizen videos showing egregious force and racial bias totally contradicting white-washed official police reports of such incidents. Too many police departments are lying and covering up gross misconduct.
- Second, even more telling, compared to all other advanced nations, the United States has more domestic police violence and incarcerated citizens per capita, heavily racially biased even after adjusting for differing racial crime rates, than any other advanced country, but no less crime and vastly more murders.
The superior procedural justice policing approach is a disciplined new approach to policing that continually trains and manages officers to be not only fully competent in the use of force when necessary, but also to:
- Consistently de-escalate all unnecessary use of force;
- Commit that all lives come back safe-not only officers, but suspects and bystanders
- Uniformly show all people respect, patience, voice, neutrality and trustworthy motives , in all encounters with police; and
- Engage in community work that builds trust between police and the community.
For more information, there are many excellent articles on procedural justice policing. See the 2017 New York Times article on Camden, New Jersey's procedural justice policing strategy . See also a 2017 paper from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on procedural justice policing .
Let me give an example: suppose George Floyd had been apprehended by procedural justice-trained police. Imagine the following scenario:
"Mr. Floyd, we have some serious questions for you, but you are clearly dangerously high. Let us rush you to the guarded rehab unit at Hennepin County Medical Center. After you're sober, we'll talk to you about whether you knew you gave a counterfeit $20 bill to the store and also about driving under the influence. But first we have to make sure you're okay."
Now that is "protect and serve" everybody: suspect, victim, officers. And Mr. Floyd would most likely be alive today.
So Step 1 is to replace warrior policing with procedural justice policing . Which brings us to Step 2.
We can't carry out the strategy, it will fail, unless we can also do Step 2. This second step, the proposed personnel makeover, is to retain and hire only officers fully committed to the new approach and retrain or remove from the force all warrior-minded officers unwilling to change. The strategy must include all necessary actions within and external to the Department to carry out both steps.
Step 2 is as crucial as Step 1. We caution the new procedural justice approach works only when officers are committed to it. It will not work-has been tried and failed-with warrior-minded officers who, impervious to persuasion or discipline, continue to think it bunk and weak, and violate and undermine it despite its definitively superior track record on every dimension of policing performance.
Good officers soon see its value: less danger to officers, reduced crime, yet better safety for suspects, more community trust. Warrior-minded officers blind to its value should be asked to resign and go elsewhere ; those who refuse and then violate the new policy must be removed from the force. Otherwise, the strategy will fail.
We believe this total makeover strategy in both policing approach and personnel finally puts into concrete, practical terms the thoroughgoing transformation that is being called for. It will achieve the goals by producing the kind of excellent police force that both good officers and the entire community aspire to.
Let me add a complementary point to the strategy. We know that as cities have cut back on social services, many 911 calls-domestic disputes, mental illness, homelessness, drug addiction, etc.-now fall to the police, for which they have little training, and violence often escalates. So, a social services program coordinating with police is needed . An active example, operating with great success for 30 years, is the CAHOOTs program in Eugene, O regon.
The program trains 911 operators in triage and they make the initial decision whether to send police or counselors in response to a call. If the operator recognizes the situation as nonviolent, they send the appropriate counselors or social workers. The results: 20 percent of calls do not require police, it reduces violence, it provides more effective help and it builds trust. Further it saves a bundle. Minneapolis needs a CAHOOTS program and ought to start right now without waiting for the lengthy time police reform will take. It will reduce violence, help more people more effectively and save money.
Let me return to Step 2, the need to remove warrior-minded officers. Why is this step so critical? And why is it so difficult?
I mentioned the absolute importance of incentives in system reform. Suppose we have a chief appointed for his commitment to the procedural justice approach, as I believe Minneapolis Chief Medaria Arradondo is. The only way he can incent his officers to follow the new approach is to base rewards-recognition, bonuses, promotions-on successful procedural justice practice and encounters, and conversely, to disincentivize the warrior-minded officers-say, coaching on the first violation, discipline on the second and dismissal from the force after the third.
Let's have no more George Floyds, not ever, not anywhere
and especially not here.
If the Chief cannot successfully remove violating officers, there is no incentive or penalty for warrior-minded officers to change their ways or leave. They can ignore the policy change, even undermine it, and reform fails. In fact, Minneapolis has experienced that reform fails and nothing changes without the required personnel turnover. That is why the fine new policies introduced by the mayor, the chief and the Legislature are pointless until Step 2 is possible and taken.
So, Minneapolis has a deep and serious problem with Step 2: an inability to remove officers who violate Department policy . In principle, the mayor and chief have the authority to set policy for the Department and authority to enforce it. In principle! But in practice, in our weak mayor system, for reasons that are only partially clear and certainly unaddressed for decades-mayor after mayor, chief after chief-have been unable to exercise this authority. Until we identify, understand and remove all the practical, behind-the-scenes obstacles that have defeated the authority of the mayor and chief to remove insubordinate officers, police reform will not happen.
In short, we are well on the way with Step 1. With procedural justice, plus Camden's de-escalation and everyone-comes-home-safe approach, plus CAHOOTS, we know the field-tested new, superior policing approach that the Department should adopt. It is Step 2 where we lag, where we have made little progress.
Therefore, the most important action now to initiate police reform is a task force of experts, convened by significant civic leadership , to investigate why the authority of the mayor and chief to remove officers who violate policy is so compromised. I invite good officers, arbitrators, prosecutors, city officials, legislators, how about you law schools and criminal justice schools, and you in the Business Roundtable, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, the media-all you bright and influential people-to volunteer and appoint yourselves to initiate this task force, not only to study all the behind-the scenes obstacles to the Chief's authority, but also to show us how they can be overcome. With that in hand, we can initiate a sustained campaign to carry out the recommended actions.
I don't want to hear how it can't be done, rather how it can be done. I don't want to hear about problems with arbitrators, with union contracts, with PELRA, with fair labor practices, judicial precedents, and on and on. I want to hear from all you experts and people in a position to act, how each of these problems can be fixed. Saying it can't be done means saying no serious police reform is possible, all we can do is more useless tokens. What?! Must we have the next George Floyd go down before all of you who can help finally mobilize to fix this outrageous problem of injustice in the largest city in the state.
Finally, because warrior-policing is a national problem and disgrace, I urge all you good officers in the Twin Cities and throughout the state and across the nation to seize the initiative, find your leaders, organize and lead the charge for procedural justice policing yourselves. I believe reform should be done with the police, not to the police. And I urge racial justice activists, everywhere you see good officers urging reform, to work together with them, rather than at loggerheads; your goals are the same as theirs. I have a dream: good officers and activists working together to transform policing in America .
Let's have no more George Floyds, not ever, not anywhere and especially, not here.
23:47 - Why do you believe procedural justice would actually reduce crime? (Paul Ostrow)
McClure: The key to reducing crime is getting tips from the community. In Camden, once people trusted the police, the solved crime rate went from 15 percent to 60 percent. People do know something and if they don't trust the police, they won't contact them.
Read a 2018-2019 article from Hometownsource.com about community policing in Columbia Heights: Columbia Heights Police Department Earns International Community Policing Award .
25:09 - Is there common law enforcement training in the state of Minnesota or is this all handled at the municipal level? (Paul Gilje)
McClure: There are requirements to be a police officer. Most police recruits are trained in criminal justice schools. There's no single academy in the state. Yale University developed the procedural justice concept. There are all kinds of programs to help train officers in procedural justice.
For more information, go to the following link: What does it take to become a police officer in the state of Minnesota? - Star Tribune, "Curious Minnesota" - February 19, 2021.
Is there any municipality in Minnesota that seems to have it together? (Paul Gilje)
McClure: Saint Paul is way ahead of Minneapolis, as are the chiefs in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. See Joint Community Conversation with the mayors and police chiefs of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center .
29:19 - How do you bring together the public and the Police Department to create cultural change, knowing that this takes time and considering that much is embedded in our culture? (Tom Abeles)
McClure: Most people have never heard that the police departments in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are any different from others. How did they become so good, while others have gone downhill? Minneapolis has been going downhill for decades.
Good officers need to speak with a common voice and police unions need to start electing good leaders in favor of this transformation to procedural justice. We need the governor and legislative leaders to understand this. The Star Tribune should run an investigation of police policies and inform people.
32:42 - How can we address issues of race facing police departments as they try to recruit a diverse force of officers? How can we communicate better with the police force themselves as we try to reform policing? (T Williams)
Williams: A major factor involved in addressing police reform is race. There are historical barriers to recruiting a diverse police force. Saint Paul historically has done a better job of hiring Black police officers and having Black officers in leadership positions than Minneapolis. We have the kind of Police Department that white people want and that protects them.
We can't deal with the Police Department in a vacuum. We must address how police officers are recruited and vetted and we must have a plan. It's challenging, because when people talk about eliminating the police, there are problems in the white and Black communities.
There is little communication with the police themselves. There is a group of Black officers in the Department with their own organization. People talking about reform are not communicating with these officers. We must find a way to reach out to the officers in the trenches. Reform needs participants from within.
Five Minneapolis police officers are coaches in the North High School football department. Read more in this July 5, 2020, Star Tribune article: Football coach Charles Adams III determined to keep driving change at Minneapolis North .
37:05 - How does the model of procedural justice address the issues of race in interactions between the community and the Police Department? (Paul Ostrow)
McClure: You address and deal with everybody in the same way, with equal respect and equal dignity. When you do this, people begin to trust you. Even when an officer gives you a ticket, it's the way you've been treated that matters.
People need to see officers of their own culture who understand their community. We need people who grew up in the community and want to be officers for that community.
Having good, diverse officers in schools having good relationships with kids helps build trust and kids start to talk to them. All of this helps overcome problems of race.
40:07 - How do we get to procedural justice or broader police reform from where we are now? Could you comment on how the City Council's proposed Department of Public Safety would relate to what you are proposing? (Lee Munnich)
McClure: Not only does the City Council's Charter amendment proposal not solve the problem, it makes it worse. First, it doesn't say how the Council would be able to get rid of bad officers in the Department. Second, it would formally put the Police Department under the Council's direction rather than the mayor's. Council members already feel free to intervene. Some members were out on the streets during the protests and riots after George Floyd's death trying to direct the police outside the line of command. Now they want to make it formal. How can you run a Police Department with 14 bosses who often don't agree with each other, but each of whom feels authority to give directions uncoordinated with each other or policy?
If we want police reform,
we must reform city government, too.
This 14-boss problem plagues all city departments. It's just been made more visible by the crisis in the Police Department. If we want police reform and an end to the 14-boss failings in all the other departments, we must reform the city's governance structure to having an executive mayor and a legislative Council, as called for by the Charter Commission's proposed amendment . As it is now, if people aren't seeing things done, they don't know which elected officials to hold accountable. We need an executive mayor to manage that ordinances are being carried out and we need department heads reporting to the mayor. We need a strong police force that follows policies.
See the February 12, 2021, Civic Caucus interview with Barry Clegg, chair of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, for more information about the Commission's executive mayor/legislative council Charter proposal.
44:55 - What is your reaction to the large system that is the City Council and the mayor in terms of rewarding good police behavior and penalizing bad behavior? Can we have a successful reboot of the Police Department if we don't have a city government structure where we can hold the elected officials accountable for the outcomes that result from their leadership? (Paul Ostrow)
McClure: It's impossible when we have a City Council with executive authority. Voters can't vote for all 14 people. Everybody gets to vote for the mayor. No other big city uses the weak mayor/strong council system, because it doesn't work. If we want police reform, we have to move to an executive mayor/legislative council system. It should be the Council's full-time job to come up with city ordinances.
If we want police reform, we must reform city government, too.
48:57 - Could you say more about Malcom Gladwell's Talking to Strangers and how it led you to procedural-justice thinking? (Janis Clay)
McClure: It didn't lead me there, it confirmed me there. There was some past research that said crime is very concentrated in various cities in very small areas and in those areas, aggressive policing can work. But broadening that approach to policing to the whole city and to all communities of color is a gross injustice. It doesn't work.
To reform police takes getting incentives right . I learned from looking at Camden, New Jersey. The whole warrior thing is how we got into this mess. The idea that we're going to stop riots by beating people over the head is false. The way to stop riots is to give people justice. Then they don't have to protest anymore. It's time to give people justice. Lots of protestors would be more patient if they knew someone were working on the problem.
Watch a short September 2019 YouTube video of Malcolm Gladwell speaking about policing and his book Talking to Strangers.
54:11 - What would you suggest as the first step, however small, that needs to be taken? (Paul Gilje)
McClure: A first step would be to find a very visible leader in the community to set up a task force that identifies obstacles that allow insubordinate officers to remain on the force for years and prevent their removal and then studies how to overcome them. Smart people who understand these things could be put to work on the task force to come up with a practical, technical and political solution.
At the Legislature, we'll need changes in the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA). And because arbitrators are picked by both management and labor, they feel they must decide half in favor of management and half in favor of the union. That's not a way to get rid of bad officers. We could have panels of arbitrators and assign them to cases by lot, so they wouldn't have to be worried about not getting work because of their decisions.
The City Council will soon learn that it's an unfair labor practice to get rid of the Police Department.
57:39 - The Police Department seems the most visible example of a set of problems stemming from city governance in Minneapolis. Considering the history of Charter amendments, how do we communicate the issues and potential consequences to the public? (Tom Abeles)
McClure: There are civic leaders who love this town, wealthy individuals who could raise money for a task force and hire marketing people to help communicate to the public.
1:02:09 - How do you garner widespread support from an informed electorate to get a Charter change approved? (John Adams)
McClure: Go to the Star Tribune and to marketing people. Charter reform is dull, but police reform isn't. It requires money and smart people who can get the message across.
1:04:15 - How would the city move from the warrior model to the procedural justice model of policing? What specific legislative actions need to be taken? Why can't we ask our City Council members to hold extensive public hearings surrounding these issues? (Paul Ostrow)
McClure: We had an open forum where everybody had two minutes or less to speak. That doesn't work. We need a forum where we hold our Council members to task. The League of Women Voters could hold a lot of people accountable and do a lot of marketing.
You can't design a new structure for policing in an open forum. That's why we need a task force of experts: so we have an actual design to work on. The City Council hasn't produced a single design for a new system.
1:08:24 - I recommend the book Tangled up in Blue: Policing in the American City by Rosa Brooks. Can you comment on the push and pull between wanting to send more mental health and social workers out as first responders, while also maintaining the ability to respond with force in appropriate situations? (Lee Munnich)
McClure: The CAHOOTS program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets) in Eugene, Oregon, started in 1989, as a cooperative effort of a mental health clinic with the police department. It's working like gangbusters.
Give the experts in counseling a chance.
You don't defund the police, you complement them.
The system results in a savings by not sending the police to situations they're not trained for. You can't put all mental health patients in jail. Give the experts in counseling a chance and you can save enormous amounts of money. You don't defund the police, you complement them.
1:14:07 - How would a coalition form in support of the executive mayor/legislative council amendment proposed by the Charter Commission? (Tom Abeles)
McClure: We have an amazing marketing community in this town-people who could think of people who could work on technical problems. Who are the civic leaders? I'm hoping the Civic Caucus readership will ask, how can we get things launched?
If we want police reform, we must have charter reform. The Charter Commission has an excellent proposal. The City Council proposal would take us backwards.
1:20:52 - Conclusion.
McClure: Go to the Center for Policy Design website for more information on applying a systems approach to solve not only issues in policing, but also issues in health care and education.
Walter McClure is senior fellow and chair of the Center for Policy Design.
He received a B.A. in philosophy and physics from Yale in 1959 and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Florida State in 1967. His dissertation research, on nuclear cluster theory, was performed at the University of Tübingen in Germany and he co-authored a book on the subject with his professor, Karl Wildermuth.
In 1969 he switched from physics to health care reform policy for reasons, he says, having to do with "relevance." He worked at InterStudy under Paul Ellwood's leadership from 1969 to 1981, at which time he left to start the Center for Policy Studies (now the Center for Policy Design). He directed the Center until his retirement for medical reasons in 1990. At InterStudy, he worked with colleagues on the HMO strategy for health care reform, among other tasks, drafting much of the federal legislation.
At the Center, he developed Large System Architecture, which is a general theory of why organizations do what they do and a set of methods to strategically redirect their behavior toward the goals society desires of them. With these methods, he and his colleagues at the Center developed a health care system reform strategy to get better care for less and developed a National Health Insurance proposal consonant with this strategy. He assisted Medicare, Pennsylvania and Cleveland to implement the first step of the strategy, severity-adjusted outcomes assessment of providers, before his reluctant retirement.
He remains chair of the board of the Center, but for many years he was no longer active in its professional work or management. Recently he resumed some of his professional work.
Present on Zoom interview
Tom Abeles, John Adams, Helen Baer, John Cairns (vice chair), Janis Clay (chair), Sheldon Clay, Paul Gilje, Dan Loritz, Walt McClure, Lee Munnich, Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder (associate director), T Williams.