Federal authorities will spend at least the next two years auditing and improving the practices and policies of the St. Anthony Police Department in hopes of creating a model for law enforcement across the country.
St. Anthony city officials requested intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice a few months ago after one of its officers, Jeronimo Yanez, fatally shot Philando Castile during a July 6 traffic stop. The voluntary move makes the city the 16th department — and the smallest — to be studied by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
“The city is asking us to be very critical, knowing that we will be very independent, objective and critical of the operations,” said COPS Office Director Ronald Davis. “I like to say the truth can hurt, but selective ignorance is fatal. So, the chief and mayors are willing to be told the hard truths about what’s working and what’s not working in the department.”
Davis announced the audit at a Thursday news conference alongside U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth, St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust and the mayors of Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, which are served by St. Anthony police. Castile was fatally shot while stopped on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.
The studies take two years or longer and look at issues such as traffic stops, recruitment, police use of force and the department’s internal system for addressing complaints, Davis said. The audit, called the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance, will not investigate individual incidents or officers, he added.
“We immediately became aware that we needed help … in order for us to serve our communities better,” Mangseth said at the news conference.
Faust called for all community members, including “doubters,” to support the effort and appealed for patience. Some recommendations from the COPS program could possibly be implemented “very quickly,” while others will take time, he said.
The program recently released a 300-page report with 272 recommendations for San Francisco police.
Davis provided this general outline of how the St. Anthony review will proceed: Federal authorities will spend the next eight to 10 months working with experts to analyze the department. That will include a review of department policies, thousands of pages of documents, ride-alongs, listening sessions with the public and conversations with police officers.
The office will issue a report outlining its findings, which will also be made available to the public. Federal authorities will then spend the next 18 months working with the city to implement changes recommended in the report. Two progress reports will be issued.
The results for St. Anthony, which has 23 sworn officers, according to the city’s website, could serve as a national guide since 75 percent of all police departments across the country have 25 or fewer officers, Davis said.
“That will be a very good road map for many of the organizations,” he said.
As part of the audit, Davis said, St. Anthony police also will be involved in the “police data initiative,” in which departments publicly release raw data free of their own analysis and interpretation.
“You can have the raw data so you can make your own decision,” Davis said, adding that St. Anthony police will be implementing many “cutting edge” practices as part of the federal program.
Community members with the St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action (SAVCA) issued a written statement commending the city’s efforts. But they also laid out demands they hope are met under the federal review: establishing a civilian review board; ongoing training for police on bias, cultural competency and other areas; monthly reports of police data; improving data collection and public access to police reports, and updating police policies.
“I have been concerned over the past months, since the Castile shooting, to what extent our police department has the capacity to understand its institutional role in its aggressive policing that has had enormously negative and disparate impacts on people of color,” said resident Nancy Robinett, chair of SAVCA’s Police Advisory Committee. “I hope that the Department of Justice can assist our police department in developing more community trust-focused policing practices that preserve both safety and service as core policing values.”
Glenda Hatchett and Robert Bennett, attorneys for Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said they were pleased with the independent review, adding that “any measures that can stop tragic occurrences and promote proper police practices for all communities is a critical step in the right direction.”
Minneapolis Pastor Brian Herron said Thursday’s announcement gave him hope that the community can heal from the death of Castile, a black school cafeteria manager. Yanez was charged in November in Ramsey County District Court with three felony counts — second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Yanez is scheduled to make his second court appearance Monday.
“I love what I heard,” Herron said. “I think it’ll be very important, and I commend the chief and mayors for being bold enough to ask for something like this.”