Editorial: Settling differences and healing a city

  • Updated: February 23, 2008 - 5:05 PM

Minneapolis police, community group must get back on track.

In late 2003, a committee of Minneapolis cops and citizens reached consensus about ways to improve police community relations. After a federal mediator was called in, the group developed a 24-page agreement on issues such as use of police force, racial profiling, cultural awareness and police training and recruitment.

Those who negotiated the pact became the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC), and the 30-member group was charged with taking some 100 recommendations and making them happen.

Four years and dozens of contentious meetings later, only about half of those goals have been accomplished. Infighting, arguments and continued mistrust have too often gotten in the way of progress. And now a deadline looms: The PCRC was suppose to do its work in five years. Under the agreement, its work is scheduled to end in December.

Given the long, difficult history of bad blood between Minneapolis police and some community members, the effort is too important to fail. Some PCRC members need to set aside their differences, park their egos and put the good of the city first.

Mayor R.T. Rybak admits that he was skeptical about the effort at early on, but says he is now "passionately'' committed to the agreement. He and Police Chief Tim Dolan point to success stories, including progress in recruiting more people of color into law enforcement, increased use of cameras in squads and neighborhoods, and decreased use of force by officers.

The mayor says he's determined to get most of the action items accomplished by the end of the year -- with or without the cooperation of the full PCRC.

It's admirable to be action-oriented, but when city officials make decisions without community buy in, there's a risk. How can citizens who feel they've been victims of police misconduct have faith in police-imposed policies unless they're part of the process?

The city and Police Department aren't alone in needing attitude adjustments. In addition to conflicts with cops, in-fighting in the PCRC's African-American contingent has been counterproductive. Too often what was known at the "Unity Team'' wasn't very unified.

An original cochair was forced out last year. More recently, two long-time activists argued, leading yet another cochair to step aside. That brand of bickering won't get the job done. Those types of disputes have driven away a number of thoughtful PCRC members who need to return to the table to assure representation from a wide range of communities.

The original agreement was developed with the help of a federal facilitator. Perhaps the group now needs a good, neutral third-party facilitator to help it work through its problems and focus on the task at hand.

  • MOVING AHEAD

    "The PCRC must do a reality check [and] look at what can and cannot be accomplished this year. Then the group must recommend a way to continue to work on the uncompleted items within a new entity that has some teeth and will be sanctioned by the City Council.''

    Rev. Ian Bethel, former co-chair of the PCRC.

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