ST. PAUL — The ACLU of Minnesota said Tuesday, Jan. 5, they’ve reached a settlement with the city of St. Paul over police records, which the nonprofit organization said officials improperly withheld for more than 18 months.
The police department, however, said it wasn’t a matter of not wanting to release the data — a spokesman said antiquated technology limited some data-collection “and prevented us from disseminating certain information as quickly as we’d like.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the lawsuit was the catalyst for the police department to launch a project to collect, track and share investigative stop data.
“While we are disappointed it was necessary to file a lawsuit to get data that is clearly public, we are pleased the city of St. Paul has taken steps to rectify the situation,” ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney said in a statement. “If the city doesn’t collect and analyze data on investigative stops, how can officials know what police are doing in the field? Collecting this data and making it public is crucial for adequate oversight, accountability and transparency by police, and to understand the true scope of racial disparities.”
Since Todd Axtell became police chief in 2016, the police department has “taken extraordinary steps to make more data publicly available than ever before,” said police spokesman Steve Linders, who pointed to the department publicly releasing traffic stop data and a report on officers’ use of force — both for the first time.
“The St. Paul police department is committed to building trust through transparency,” Linders said.
Under the settlement announced Tuesday, the city provided some of the St. Paul police data requested by the ACLU, including four years of recent data about arrests and citations, traffic stops and uses of force.
St. Paul didn’t provide information about investigative stops “because officials said they either don’t track and monitor the data or maintain it in a useful format, even though the SPPD’s manual requires officers to record these stops,” according to the ACLU-MN statement. As a result, the city formed an Investigative Stop Working Group near the end of 2020, the ACLU said.
An investigative stop is when an officer detains and/or searches a person, such as a “stop and talk” or “stop and frisk” if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a person has committed a crime or is about to.
The working group about data involving investigative stops is focused on how the city “can continue to evolve our technology, along with these priorities to … remain transparent to community and increase our transparency,” said City Attorney Lyndsey Olson.
There is not a monetary component to the lawsuit settlement. The ACLU-MN received the data in large segments and hasn’t yet analyzed it.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in December 2019, saying the police department “unlawfully refused to provide … critical public data about its policing activities in the community.” The organization began requesting information from the police department in May 2018 about each stop, citation, arrest and use of force since 2015, according to the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court.