DULUTH – The city and the Duluth Police Department will be hiring outside consultants to perform a racial bias audit and analyze traffic stop data in response to a disproportionate number of incidents involving Black, Indigenous and people of color in the community.

"We are not interested in doing this audit ourselves. We want it to be an outside resource and the community needs to be a part," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said at a news conference Friday. "We have invited the NAACP to identify someone to work with us."

The Duluth Branch NAACP in March demanded the police bring use-of-force and arrest rates in line with local demographics by the end of 2022. The group has twice reissued those demands in the wake of Daunte Wright's killing in Brooklyn Center and the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"Oppression is embedded in our criminal justice institutions," the Duluth NAACP said in a statement last week. "Our work will not end until white supremacy is eradicated."

Nonwhite residents comprise 10% of Duluth's population, but half of individuals involved in use-of-force incidents in 2019 were people of color, according to Duluth Police Department data. Duluth arrests between 2017 and October 2020 also show a wide racial disparity, with nearly a third of those arrested identifying as Black or Native American.

LEAN Duluth, which requested and compiled the police data highlighting the disparities, is seeking stories from local residents about their interactions with police to "support the work of existing organizing for police accountability, create momentum and help bring about policy change."

"Systemic failures in policing are reinforced by a suppression of our experiences and our ability to speak about them," the group said. "Our community does not have the tools to tell its story."

Since Wright's death, the use of pretextual traffic stops has come under increased scrutiny. The local NAACP has asked law enforcement to "commit to ending the use of all pretextual stops, especially those for minor traffic infractions."

In Duluth, the number of traffic stops fell to about 10,500 last year after peaking at more than 22,000 several years ago. Late last year the Duluth Police Department began tracking race data in traffic stops, which is not required by the state.

Police Chief Mike Tusken said Friday that a consultant "can help us look at this data and give us direction."

"This will be an opportunity for us to improve where we're at," Tusken said. "How do we engage our community, and how do we make our community safer."

Deputy Chief Laura Marquardt has begun training to help the department become the first agency in Minnesota to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, an initiative that could take three years to complete.

The department also is adding a grant-funded registered nurse to its mental health unit, a move that Marquardt told the Duluth City Council will create a "more holistic approach to decriminalizing mental health."

Consultants for the racial bias audit and traffic stop analysis are expected to be identified in the coming months.

Larson and Tusken sent a letter to Duluth NAACP leadership Friday morning outlining these steps and others "to demonstrate our commitment to fair and equitable interactions with the public."

"We look forward to scheduling a meeting with representatives of your choice to start working in partnership on the many steps ahead of us," the letter said.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496