Two efforts announced last week hold promise to build greater trust, transparency and accountability between Minnesota police officers and the citizens they serve.
Gov. Mark Dayton created a special council to recommend improvements in police-community relations. And the Minneapolis Police Department launched an online portal that allows anyone to look up public data on police conduct complaints and cases.
Both initiatives come after the deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, two African-American men who were killed by police, sparking protests in the Twin Cities area. No charges were filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the Clark case; the investigation into Castile’s death in Falcon Heights is ongoing.
Both the state and Minneapolis plans are welcome approaches to help improve police-community relations, build respect, and make policing safer for cops and the citizens they serve. The initiatives are further demonstrations that state and local officials are serious about bringing local law enforcement agencies in line with the de-escalation and community policing strategies outlined in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (tinyurl.com/policing-task-force).
The approaches recommended by the task force have been called “community, guardian, problem-solving and relationship-based policing.” The changes require more resources and effort to overcome bias, root out bad officers and expand the ranks of service-minded cops.
Hennepin County District Judge Pamela Alexander and Grand Rapids (Minn.) Police Chief Scott Johnson will co-chair the governor’s council. Among the 15 voting members of the panel are six from law enforcement and seven from groups representing communities of color, including one each from the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. Nonvoting advisory members will include relatives of Castile and Clark, legislators and faith community representatives. Council members are expected to release preliminary recommendations by Feb. 15; a final report is due June 30. Dayton wants the group to consider strategies that can improve policing statewide. He asked the group to study policing practices and the criminal justice system, including sentencing reform and prosecutor discretion.
Responding to Dayton’s announcement, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said she welcomed the effort and added that the Minneapolis Police Department is already making changes that include the use of body cameras, new use-of-force policies and crisis intervention training.
In addition, the department announced last week that it is making information about police conduct and complaints available to the public online (http://www.minneapolismn.gov/civilrights/policereview/cra_links-contacts). Though there are legal limits on what information may be shared, for the first time citizens can access an officer’s profile card. Complaints are color-coded and listed by precinct to determine if patterns emerge.
Minnesotans recognize that the vast majority of police officers are true public servants who put their lives on the line to keep citizens safe. But constructive reforms that can make the streets safer for everyone are in the best interest of officers, too.
Clarence Castile, Philando Castile’s uncle, said last week that his family hopes his nephew’s death will lead to better policing. “ Justice for Philando goes a lot further than just punishing somebody,’’ he said. “Justice … is more to protect young people growing up in our country — not just Minnesota but in the whole United States. It’s also to protect these police officers by educating them and getting them to do their jobs a little better.’’