Sunday, April 11, 2010

Community Dialogue Gets as Spicy as Papaya Salad

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

On Saturday, April 10th, the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing put together a meeting to discuss getting a Hmong police officer on the day shift in the fourth precinct. This was a follow-up meeting to one that happened in September of last year. In that meeting, we were told that the police contracts made it impossible to get a Hmong police officer on the day shift for a very long time.

But the MNCO folks and a Hmong attorney looked over the police contracts in question. What they found was that...

...this is not necessarily the case. Let's break down what we were told vs. what is actually in the police contracts.

First, there are three Hmong police officers in the 4th Precinct and all are on the night shift. There is one Hmong Park Police officer in NoMi, but he is not part of the Minneapolis Police Department. Both city officials and police representatives have said that putting the MPD officers on the day shift is not permitted because new police officers are required to work their first five years on the overnight shift.

The contract, however, states, "Newly Hired Employees shall be assigned to work on the Night Watch for at least twelve (12) months during their first two (2) years of employment."

Police and city officials have also said that the 4th Precinct Hmong police officers cannot be placed on the day shift because non-Hmong officers have seniority and the police union contracts dictate that senior officers have priority for choosing such shifts.

The contract, however, states, "...the precinct commander should give primary consideration to the most senior volunteer. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the precinct commander is not required to select the most senior person;" According to MNCO's reading of the contract, such assignments can be made based on qualifications and abilities (such as the ability to speak Hmong) and not solely on seniority.

A police spokesman has also said that the police union contract would have to be renegotiated to permit moving a 4th precinct Hmong officer to the day shift. However, the contract states, "Filling Assignments. The Department retains the right to establish and and modify in its sole discretion the selection process and criteria used to select personnel to fill Non-Bid Assignments...Scheduling. The Department retains the right to establish work schedules for Non-Bid Assignments."

Here are several other highlighted texts from the contract that are pertinent to getting a Hmong police officer on the day shift in the 4th Precinct: "Temporary Change in Shifts...The Department shall have the right to temporarily depart from the posted schedule of shift assignments." "Nothing in this article shall be construed as a limitation or restriction upon the Department respecting the scheduling of employees..." "Nothing herein shall be construed as a limitation upon the Employer's managerial prerogatives...except as expressly set forth in this agreement."

A Police official also stated that the Hmong population was no longer concentrated in the 4th Precinct as it was in 2000. Those of us who live here know that is not the case, but having a report from the Minneapolis Public Schools helps. This indicated the primary language spoken at home in the 2009-2010 school year, and showed that the concentration of Hmong residents in north Minneapolis has not significantly decreased since the 2000 Census.

The organizers and the community were armed with this knowledge coming into this meeting. Even though residents expected to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable, there did not seem to be an antagonistic attitude from the Hmong people in attendance. They seemed to want to simply continue the dialogue, knowing that a flat-out "no" was not an acceptable answer anymore. But the meeting got off to a positive start when Lt. Lindbeck and CMs Samuels and Hofstede were thanked for helping to keep some Hmong officers on board as new MPD recruits in spite of budget problems.

Organizers Jay Clark and Yia Yang helped draw out some answers from the group. There was a pattern that happened with every single family. Organizers would ask, "Are you having problems with crime on your block." The answer would be no. But a deeper conversation with kids and families would reveal that Hmong families are dealing with drug dealing, robberies, assaults, arson, prostitution, and other issues.

Then a series of questions were asked where the attendees raised their hands.

Through this exercise, we learned that virtually every Hmong in attendance was not born in the US, virtually every Hmong person did not speak English at home, roughly half of the room said they'd arrived since 2004, and only three people said they would feel comfortable having a conversation in English.

Some stories were told about experiences with criminal activity, and then Blong Yang highlighted the findings in the police contract. "The idea that this is impossible is flat-out wrong," he said.

Then Lt. Bret Lindback spoke. Lindback has extensive experience working with the Hmong community in the 4th Precinct, and in discussions afterward, it was clear he knows much more than I do about Hmong history and culture.

But there's really no way to sugarcoat his actions and demeanor at this meeting. He was standoffish and even aggressively condescending. He said he'd been having these same discussions since 1994 and expects that these same kinds of discussions will continue to happen long after he retires. He also said things like, "This is not my first rodeo," and "You had an opportunity to lecture us, now I'm going to lecture you."

And it happened again! The Johnny Northside blog was scooped by North News. Margo Ashmore put up a story about this event before I did, and detailed much of Lindback's rant. I'm going to give her credit where credit's due and also save the time of typing out a very similar version. Go and read her article.

In fairness to Lindback, many of his proposals were good, solid ideas and I hope we can get to work on them quickly. But the delivery of those proposals was not conducive to building a strong relationship between the Hmong and the 4th Precinct. Also, he later apologized for his remarks and demeanor, saying he initially felt that the meeting was designed to make him and the MPD look foolish, and he realized this was not the case.

A businessman named Her spoke about how he's lived and run a business in north Minneapolis for twenty years. He said that he wants to build trust between the Hmong community and the MPD, but Lindback's responses were not what they had come to discuss. He thanked Samuels and Hofstede for their attendance and visibly choked up when he said he was disappointed with the Lieutenant (although those statements were made before the apology).

Don Samuels spoke next.

Samuels said that he wants to make sure the request to meet with NoMi CM's three times a year is upheld, and that "an ongoing conversation is better than a relationship based on problems." He told the room he knows what it's like to be bullied and he knows what it's like to be an immigrant, although he cannot relate to experiencing a language barrier.

CM Samuels also helped smooth things over by saying that even the strong exchange of ideas that was just held was a good thing. The intensity of a conversation means people are speaking from their hearts, and not that either side should go away or stop talking to each other.

CM Hofstede followed Samuels.

She said she came from an immigrant family and that English was not the language spoken in her household growing up. She appreciated the straightforward conversation we were having, and told the Hmong community, "You belong here. I want you to stay, generation after generation."

At this point, Lindback offered his mea culpa and gave out his cell phone number, saying that people should call him if they have concerns. If they can't speak English, leave a message in Hmong and he'd find a translator.

Don Samuels said he and Council President Barb Johnson had met with 4th Precinct Inspector Mike Martin about this issue shortly after the September meeting. They all agreed that one Hmong officer on the day shift would be helpful but would not solve all our problems. Three, or five might not even do it. So we need to be creative in coming up with solutions. We need more Hmong people calling 911, an intern that could help with translation might be useful, and ongoing community meetings would be necessary.

Samuels told of his first experiences as a city council member, and how he was "tired of seeing white cops arrest black kids." But many African-American policeman in the northside had said the African-American criminals actually treated them worse because of their common race. So Samuels said he understands what the Hmong community is trying to do, but we also need to work to make it desirable for a Hmong officer to be on the day shift in the 4th Precinct.

Blong then said to the group, "If we're still struggling with communicating twenty years later, we've failed." By that time the food was ready and we got down to the best part of the meeting: the spicy papaya salad.

Here's hoping the communal feeling of breaking bread (ok, in this case, noodles) together carries over into our efforts to build a healthy dialogue between our Hmong residents and the MPD.


Anonymous said...

Here's the root cause of your problem right from your own post. "virtually every Hmong person did not speak English at home". I think that it is up to the Hmong community to assimilate and learn english vs forcing officers who have seniority from getting the shift they earned or forcing the limited Hmong officers to work in an area they may not want to serve in. If the primary language was English this wouldn't even be an issue.

Jefferson Terry said...

This seems to be proof that we need to have the "We Watch We Call" signs in Hmong as well. If the Hmong population in NOMI is as large as the data seems to indicate we are not serving a large portion of our population by only placing the signs in English.

Anonymous said...

Do we have any Somali officers on duty as well? It would seem that we also have a large Somali community and they should also have a personal officer on each shift.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ Anon 10:54, you say "It would seem..." Show me evidence that the Somali population does indeed rival the Hmong population in NoMi (I submit that it does not), and then also show me that a similar cultural/linguistic barrier exists. Do that, and I would argue that there ought to be more Somali cops here too.

@ Anon 10:02, just like shifting the schedules of police officers around takes time, so does learning English and assimilating. And the Hmong are not typical immigrants; many, perhaps most, are refugees seeking asylum after they helped out our country.

As much as I want to respect the seniority and every last bit of what our fine men and women on the MPD have earned, the bottom line is that their primary obligation is to protect and serve my community. I submit that the current setup does not adequately do that and putting a Hmong officer on the day shift in the 4th Precinct would be a huge step forward in that regard.

Jefferson Terry, I feel ya. And perhaps this could be a way to bring our Hmong and English-speaking neighbors together.

James Parsons said...

I wouldn't be surprised to find that the landlords who rent housing to these citizens try to use English leases as well. There should probably be an ordinance requiring all contracts be in English and Hmong to ensure no misunderstandings occur.

Wayne said...

I think the understanding of this situation is way too simplistic. This concept that you know what the police union contract says, and the idea that they should be able to manipulate things to bring a Hmong officer to the day shift is not as simple as it is made to sound. I have served as a union steward, on union executive boards, and state union boards. There simply isn't the time or space to educate you on union law in this blog. But let me just share this little bit with the readers. The MPD union contract may address shift assignments. But there are also rules established by Minneapolis Civil Service that effect that union contract. Additionally, there are precedents called "Past practice" that may override what is written in the union contract. If shift assignments have always been made by seniority, irregardless of what the contract says, then "seniority" becomes the precedential rule. And, there are most likely previous union settlements that effect the issue. Trust me. When the Lt. says isn't not that simple, he knows what he's talking about. If they moved a Hmong officer to the day shift ahead of another officer, that officer would have grounds to file a union grievance and/or a lawsuit against the city (for several reasons) and that officer would win his case. Endeth the lesson. Finally, Just because they put a Hmong officer on the day shift doesn't mean that officer will be available to assist the Hmong community. He or she could be tied up on routine police work and unavailable when a Hmong person needs assistance. Or, that officer could be assigned to Squad 410, and the Hmong person needing assistance could be in Squad 450's area. Certainly, you are not expecting the precinct to assign a Hmong officer to a special squad to patrol the entire North Minneapolis area. My suggestion to you is if you want a Hmong officer to be available on the day shift to specifically help the Hmong community, that you use NRP funds to hire an off duty officer part-time as a Hmong liaison officer. And you require that the officer be knowledgeable in the Hmong culture and be fluent in the various dialects of the Hmong language. You might even be able to find grant money for that position (maybe $50,000). Otherwise, you are just going to have to wait for a Hmong officer to have enough seniority to get to the day shift.

Virgil Jackson said...

This is pretty compelling proof that we need the We Watch, We Call signs in Hmong.

I agree with Jeff that it might not yet be appropriate to print them in Somali, but I'd really like to put a Hmong one up in my yard.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...


Thank you for your very informative comments. We also understand that even if our interpretation of the union contract is accurate enough to push for a Hmong officer on the day shift, there are still other issues to contend with.

First, that process, if possible at all, will still be a lengthy one. Second, CM Samuels alluded to this and I didn't write it out in enough detail, but one Hmong officer isn't a silver bullet. That person will still have to respond to calls and fulfill responsibilities in the same fashion as any other MPD officer. So being Hmong and being on the day shift does not equate being an official community liaison for every Hmong-related issue or call.

And finally, putting a Hmong police officer on the day shift doesn't mean much if the Hmong residents in the 4th Precinct don't call 911 in the first place. That's why the series of community dialogues proposed by Lindback (even though it was done in a condescending manner) is a good idea. While we work towards our larger goal (or wait until someone has seniority) we can still take smaller steps that improve relations and communication.

Finally, I am VERY interested in getting you in touch with the MNCO organizers and attorney who reviewed the contract. I think having them hear this perspective and learn from you would be VERY helpful. If you're amenable to this, please contact me and we can set something up.

Not living in your fantasy land said...

Anon 10:02
I assume that you and your family all speak the same language, I'm guessing English, though it's immaterial.

Are you suggesting that if you immigrated to another country with your whole family, you and your family would actually speak the language of your adopted country... AT HOME?

Out of curiosity, what language do they speak in your fantasy land?

Anonymous said...

I don't appreciate the hostility towards the police LT. I thought this blog was more law enforcement friendly.

Anonymous said...

Dyna notes:

There is precedent to making an exception to seniority in scheduling. That precedent comes from disability discrimination law interpreting the ADA. In a union organized workplace like MPD typically work shifts are "bid" with first choice going to the most senior employees. Sometimes a worker with a disability is unable to perform any job he has the seniority to bid for, but doesn't have enough seniority to get a job he or she can perform. In such instances, the AFL-CIO's policy is that an exception must be made to seniority to prevent unlawful discrimination.

This case is no different- when Hmong or other diverse language speaking citizens need an officer who speaks their language, the MPD has a legal duty to provide one. That legal duty supercedes union contracts and past practice.

Ernest Gallo said...

We Whine we blog and we make things up as we go.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ Anon 1:34,

Indeed. I was rather torn myself about what to say here not because this blog is generally "cop friendly," but because we are lobbying the MPD to do a specific thing and bashing them during the process is counter-productive.

But as I said, there's no sugar-coating what went on at this meeting. Lindback spent the better part of it acting in an inappropriate fashion and that was a significant part of the event. I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen.

And in fairness to the Lieutenant, I did state that many of his ideas were good ones, and stressed that he later apologized.

Anonymous said...

Actually yes, if I moved to another country I would do as many other early citizens did, speak the native language as much as possible, as fast as possible. Do you actually think that if you moved to another country they would begin hiring speakers of yor language? Bi-Lingual enablement only encourages a lack of assimilation because there is no pressing reason to learn the language and customs where you now live. I've not no problem with MPD providing interpreters where needed but re-desiging a union contract for one particular group of residents seems a bit over the top. It also seems to excuse the lack of drive in learning the language of their new home country. It's not like we just started receiving Hmong residents. These communities are well established and should be enough so that hiring language specific police officers is not a burdon the MPD should bear.

Anonymous said...

I am not Hmong and was not at the meeting but reading this feedback and the disappointment in the Lt's demeanor here is what comes to my mind and hope this thought will spread:

This guy is not a PR person for the department. This guy is a law enforcement professional that coordinates a crew of cops that deals with the worst of the worst. They coordinate raids at houses where automatic weapons and ammo are a given. They negotiate standoffs with folks that vow to shoot the first one through the door. They take down criminal rings operating violent, horrible crimes throughout NoMiland.

Yes, he might be the most senior cop with the most Hmong outreach experience so he was asked to attend and he probably felt beaten and cornered when really he should feel an overwhelming amount of support from all NoMi constituents who are safer because of his work, including Hmong who speak and do not speak English.

So, he had some human emotions and reactions in a public setting. So he isn't trained to deliver precise PR responses.

I say Lt Lindback we are all better off because of your service and we understand the stress you go through the toll it takes on your psyche, so therefore we understand your flawed reactions at the Hmong meeting. Let's move forward and focus on the positives and the potential outcomes and get past whatever bricks are standing between.

GBT4P. Thank you ALL!

Ted Templeton said...

How are we doing on the FD? Perhaps we should also look into getting some Hmong firefighters on day shift as well. How about building inspectors, and dog catchers?

Anonymous said...

It's good to see you're not such a pollyanna about the cops any more Jeff.

Margaret said...

Surely there must be other models of cultural/language barrier liaison systems that work in other cities. It's not like this is the first time it has ever happened anywhere. I think maybe both the community and the MPD need to think about the problem (Hmong not getting understanding or the help they need on crime issues) and less about the jobs. In a city, if you demand a certain kind of employee and that the employee be capable and available to do certain things, you are going to run into union rules. Personally, I am not a fan of city union rigidity but you have to look at it from the side of the employee who will be at risk, if they are taken out of their regular career path of advancement. A Hmong officer would be great but until there are enough of them at the right level to staff the day shift, why not more civilian MPD Hmong personnel? The more you have, the more you can assign. Even one, full time at large Hmong Crime Prevention specialist would probably be an improvement. They may not be able to investigate crimes but they would be available to help the Hmong community be proactive about crime.

Anonymous said...

Rather than focusing exclusively on shift assignments in the 4th precinct, what are the other options? How does a person become an interpreter? Wouldn't it be faster and more productive all around if people from within the Hmong community could be vetted and make themselves available as interpreters on-call?

One reason I mention this is that crime is not a 9-to-5 thing, as any resident of NoMi can attest. Having several interpreters available on-call could mean that potentially even non-Hmong speaking officers could work more proactively with Hmong residents on all shifts.

And, really, what about 911? I don't know if they have Hmong-speaking operators or not - do they? A lot of the "nuisence" calls, such as loud parties and drug dealing and prostitution don't often require officers to talk to the caller. Isn't 911 therefore the first line?

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

Adding to the suggestions that Margaret brings, what about the idea of some of the Hmong community members organizing a volunteer system to assist the 4th precinct in translation and cultural ways, they could do ride alongs, or they could be out and about in their own vehicles and get paged or called to assist.

They could make 311 calls while they are in between assisting officers.

It's atleast a start until the right structures are put in place visavis the contract obstacles, the staffing/training/seniority obstacles etc.

It would show great initiative from the Hmong community to work with the 4th precinct instead of playing an underdog/victim card that comes off as being a little demanding.

Anonymous said...

I like where this is going. I do think the heavy lifting should be on the part of the Hmong community with assistance from the city and neighborhood groups. I say this because now it's the Hmong. In coming years it will another group and the MPD will always be the same.

Anonymous said...

Hmong should be a requirement to graduate high school. I'm not saying a kid has to be fluent, but they should demonstrate proficiency before they can get a diploma.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

In response to a few anon's:

I may still be "pollyannish" about the MPD, depending on how one defines that. My views on the police department in general have not shifted significantly; I just was not going to let those views get in the way of doing my best to accurately describe a significant aspect of what took place at an important meeting.

Now, we don't need to hire new and in fact the budget simply isn't there to do that anyway. There are already Hmong officers in the MPD and even a few in the 4th Precinct. They just aren't working at times or in places that make them available to the community that needs them the most.

And for the most part, we're not seeing a spate of exclusive Hmong-on-Hmong crime. The perpetrators targeting Hmong families in NoMi are often of a different race and they commit crimes against non-Hmongs as well. So the more we can facilitate communication between the Hmong community and the MPD, the safer this white dude is. That's not the only reason I support this initiative, but it's one reason that takes a step back from some of the racial aspects and says, "let's focus on what makes our community safer."

Some of the proposals being discussed here are quite interesting and I hope that we can explore them in greater detail.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:03am has a great idea. Instead of moving the cops around. Lets make it mandatory that everyone in Nomi start learning Hmong. This way neighbors can just step in and assist whatever MPD staff shows up for the given crime.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the posters who say that race shouldn't be brought up so often. We cares if these people are Hmong. They're just NoMipolitans like the rest of us and shouldn't be crying for special treatment.

Anonymous said...

With all of JNS focus on Sex Offenders, I was amazed to see the list of issues described as problematic and, gee...NOTHING mentioned about sex offenses. Hmmmm....

Johnny Northside said...

One comment removed because the name was a sexual double entendre, and we don't tolerate trolls around here.