In a move that could affect St. Anthony, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that it has made "significant changes" to a program that audited police departments and recommended changes in policies, procedures and training to help build community trust.
St. Anthony, population 8,226, was one of 16 cities nationwide enrolled in that program, and the changes — effective immediately, according to a news release — make the status and future of the assessment unclear.
The DOJ said the changes to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program will "better align the program with the principles outlined by the attorney general in support of local law enforcement ... and will provide targeted assistance directly to local law enforcement based on their identified needs and requests."
The release quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying the program "will fulfill my commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime.
"This is a course correction to ensure that resources go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support," Sessions said.
St. Anthony asked for the Justice Department's help in December after community outcry over the July 6, 2016, shooting of Philando Castile.
The assessment was to be an 18- to 24-month process, with the first report issued after 12 months and a final report at the end. St. Anthony was 10 months into the process.
Castile, 32, was shot by former St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez after a traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.
Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm in June, sparking more protests.
Neither St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey nor Police Chief Jon Mangseth could be reached Sunday for comment.
Casey told KARE 11 news that he doesn't know what the changes mean, but he said the city is still committed to reform.
Mangseth sent a statement saying the same.
"The city remains committed to a technical assessment process that results in specific recommendations for improvement," the statement said.
The DOJ held three "community listening sessions" in and around St. Anthony last winter. The department stressed then that the audit would not investigate individual incidents or officers.
The plan, COPS office Director Ronald Moore said at the time, was for federal authorities to spend eight to 10 months reviewing department policies and thousands of pages of documents, doing ride-alongs and having conversations with police officers, as well as the community.
The office would then work with the city to implement recommended changes. The DOJ was supposed to issue two public progress reports and a final report.