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Golden Valley police explaining use of force to public

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • March 6, 2012 - 4:02 PM

In an effort to reach out to residents, the city of Golden Valley is holding an unusual public education session later this month on how and why city police use force.

While many city-run "citizen's academies" devote a night to educating residents about police activities, the Golden Valley session stands out because of a three-hour, standalone meeting on March 22 called "Why Do Cops Have to Use Force."

Chief Stacy Carlson said the session is being held "to dispel the TV portrayals. Our community has had officer-involved shootings of late, as other cities have. We get a lot of questions from the public."

The class comes a few months after the operations of the Golden Valley Human Rights Commission were suspended by the City Council when the group asked the city to form a task force to help prevent use of unnecessary force by police officers.

Last September, a Golden Valley police officer shot and killed a woman after she was stopped while speeding on Interstate 394 and raised a handgun in the officer's direction. Since 2008, the city has settled two other cases involving use of a Taser and what a jury determined was excessive force for about $1.3 million.

Human Rights Commission members said they suggested the police task force because residents had asked them to. City Council members said the commission's questions put the city at legal risk.

Carlson said the class is a first for Golden Valley and that she did not know of a similar standalone session on police use of force being offered in any other city. She discounted any connection between the city dispute and the class, however.

"I wouldn't say it's a motivator," she said. "But we always want to educate people. ... There are a lot of misconceptions out there."

The class, which is open only to Golden Valley residents, will deal with what state statutes allow police to do and in some cases require them to do, Carlson said. Everything from use of verbal commands to deadly force will be addressed.

Part of the class will be interactive, putting participants in officers' shoes as they respond to a simulated police call. The scenario -- perhaps two people screaming at each other -- will ask participants to decide whether to use force, and if so, what kind of force and when to use it.

"It fosters good dialogue among people in the class," Carlson said. "No two people have the same response to that."

Carlson said she hopes the class adds to the community's understanding of the police force. "The more [knowledge] there is, the less controversy and misunderstanding out there," she said.

The class is free and will run from 6-9 p.m. on March 22 at the Golden Valley Public Safety building, 7800 Golden Valley Road. Space is limited to 20 participants and pre-registration is required. More information can be found at www.startribune.com/a1096 or by calling the Golden Valley Police Department at 763-593-8079.

People who attend the March 22 class will have first crack at a citizen session that will be held sometime later this year at a simulation room used for training by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department. In that room, filmed action is projected on a screen and officers armed with a laser gun have to respond to what happens, presenting participants with fast-moving situations that seem unnervingly real.

"The overall umbrella is judgment -- should you have used force or not -- and proficiency -- were you accurate," Carlson said. "When you get people who don't spend years and years as an officer, they tend to make snap decisions or they're slow to make decisions.

"It provides a very good immediate education for people."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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