Brooklyn Park officials had been reworking their bias crime response plan for more than a year when the city's first serious hate crime in memory occurred last month.
An 18-year-old black man who was riding his bike home about 1 a.m. Sept. 23 was beaten and robbed by three white men who hurled racial slurs at him, police say.
Because the city's new response plan was largely completed, police launched it, Capt. Jeff Ankerfelt said.
Within a day of the attack, Police Chief Mike Davis reported it as a bias crime to the city manager, the mayor and the chairman of the city's Human Rights Commission, John Granger.
Granger in turn called the family of the victim, Derrick Thomas, to offer assistance. A police liaison officer later followed up with a visit.
"They asked what service we needed," said Jerri Searcy, Derrick's foster mother. "The only thing Derrick said he needed is he wanted his bike back. [Last week] they called us and said it was at the police department and they are holding it for us." He hoped to pick it up soon.
The response plan "is wonderful," Searcy said. "I'm very pleased."
The plan goes further than those of most cities, according to the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions. The state has about 45 cities that have human-rights commissions, many of which have bias response plans, league secretary Marion Helland said. But in many cases, they are limited to notifying the local human-rights commission, said Evelyn Staus, who serves on Brooklyn Park's human-rights commission. Minneapolis and St. Paul don't have formal response plans, spokesmen said, though St. Paul police do informally ask victims of bias crimes if they need help, and suggest agencies or ethnic advocacy groups that can assist them, spokesman Paul Snell said.
Staus -- a past president of the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions who chairs its hate crime committee -- said that group is studying city plans to develop a model response plan. She's reviewed about a dozen city plans so far, and said she isn't aware of any that offers victim assistance as comprehensive as in Brooklyn Park.
Granger said Brooklyn Park tried to tailor its plan to serve the city's diverse population. City officials have said about 30 percent of the city's residents are immigrants or minorities.
"We are a city of immigrants and other minority groups. No matter what their diversity is, we have an opportunity to address their needs," Granger said. "We are trying to improve the livability of the community, to make everyone feel welcome and feel they can receive a fair shake."
Staus said the new plan offers victims counseling and financial or other help through existing groups or social service agencies.
Ankerfelt, the Brooklyn Park police captain who wrote the plan, said it replaces one that was adopted in 2000 that simply stated that police would notify human-rights officials about bias incidents.
A coordinated effort
Brooklyn Park's plan is unusual, because it offers victims coordinated assistance from police, city officials and community groups, Ankerfelt said. He said the plan still needed to be updated to specify who will make up the victim support team and to identify someone trained to assess victim needs, such as mental health issues. The plan will go to the City Council for approval next week. Mayor Steve Lampi said he likes it, because "it focuses on victim support, making sure the victims get the help that they need."
The city has had minor bias incidents in the past, such as racially charged graffiti or racial slurs yelled during traffic incidents. But "we have never had such an egregious, bias-motivated assault within our memories," Ankerfelt said.
The suspects arrested in the case were charged with robbing Thomas and the bias-motivated assault of Thomas and another black man the same night. The twin attacks focused the issue for community groups, including churches and social service agencies, which the plan lists as victim resource agencies, Ankerfelt said. Church leaders held an anti-racism rally attended by Thomas a week after the incident.
"I think having seen the face of this victim, that he is a person and has a name, people can feel it, and they are more likely to invest themselves in something like this," Ankerfelt said.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658