In a recent video that went out to more than 70 law enforcement agencies across the country, Valerie Castile and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi had a simple message:
Communities need to have an ongoing dialogue about preventing and addressing officer-involved shootings. And those conversations should involve family members of those killed, as well as prosecutors and police chiefs.
For the past year, Castile and Choi have been part of a 50-member working group creating a tool kit to guide such conversations in jurisdictions across the country.
For Castile, the work is highly personal: She’s the mother of Philando Castile, the St. Paul school nutrition supervisor who was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop in 2016.
Philando Castile’s uncle, Clarence Castile, is also in the group, which includes prosecutors, advocates, law enforcement officials and six other family members of people killed in high-profile police shootings.
“These families know that nothing is going to change the outcome or bring their loved one back to them, but I think many of them were channeling a really positive energy to try to make it better for future families,” Choi said.
The working group, assembled by the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, was formed a year ago.
“What’s unique about this is that it’s the first time I’m aware of that we are convening with the intention of being informed and led by the impacted family members,” Choi said.
In addition to Choi and the Castiles, local members of the working group include Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, state Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell and Tarek Tomes, St. Paul’s chief innovation officer.
The tool kit outlines various steps for prosecutors and communities to take in reducing police use of force, evaluating local policies and ensuring transparent and timely investigations of police violence.
“Trust me, it’s doable,” Valerie Castile said on the video to various law enforcement agencies. “We just ask and hope and pray that you implement this tool kit.”
That message extends to all community members, too, Choi said.
“This provides a starting place for a conversation for a community to engage their elected prosecutor, appointed police chief, elected sheriff, mayor or City Council to start asking, ‘Are we doing this?’ And if not, why not?” he said.
The tool kit includes questions and checklists for communities to consider both before and after an officer-involved shooting. Recommendations include specific timelines for when and how often the prosecutor’s office should update family members and the public.
While the steps are designed to be adaptable to individual jurisdictions, Choi said the goal is the same: Grow trust and spark dialogue between the community and the prosecutor’s office.
“Oftentimes some of the best decisions, processes and guidelines are built on engaging those they affect the most,” he said.