Prompted by the July shooting death of Philando Castile and its aftermath, the city of Falcon Heights has made the Inclusion and Policing Task Force a reality.
Now the actual work begins to find ways to improve police/community relations.
Each member of the task force — seven people who live or work in the city, two City Council members and two facilitators — has said they would like to see Falcon Heights become a national model. The discussion at the group's second meeting on Tuesday night centered on how they even begin to get there.
The group's mission is to make recommendations to the City Council on how the city should be policed and how it can heal. Those recommendations, based on data collection and community input, are scheduled to go to the council in mid-May.
"I have a lot of questions about how we can be the most useful to the council," said task force member Kate Thompson. "How do we know we're doing a good job. How do we know if we did a good job."
Thompson and others said they believe both the group and public want to see progress and milestones, but no one was sure just yet about how to measure those.
Member Michael Wade said, "It's way too early to even measure progress without any data," he said. "We need to stay engaged [with the public] because that's where our feedback is going to come from."
The group will hold five community meetings interspersed with the task force meetings. The task force will meet about twice a month. The public can observe meetings, but discussion is limited to members only. The next meeting is Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. The complete meeting schedule can be found at falconheights.org.
Thompson said one milestone could be terminating Falcon Heights' contract with the St. Anthony Police Department — a call she said she hears often.
But facilitator Ken Morris asked what happens then? Is contracting with another agency better or worse?
"Let's not just be the pressure-release valve," Morris said. "Let's try to create solutions so we're not back here doing this again in 10 years."
Falcon Heights is patrolled by the St. Anthony Police Department, a force of 23 officers. In December, it was announced that the U.S. Justice Department would spend two years auditing and seeking to improve the city's policing practices and policies.
Falcon Heights City Administrator Sack Thongvanh gave the group an outline of that process. The Department of Justice plans to hold a listening session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Falcon Heights Elementary School.
Castile, 32, a well-liked cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, was pulled over for a traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue near Fry Street just before dusk July 6. According to cellphone video taken by his girlfriend from the passenger seat, Castile was shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez after Castile told the officer that he had a gun and a permit to carry it.
Protesters at subsequent council meetings told city officials that traffic stops on that stretch of road have been a too-common occurrence for too long for black people and other minorities.
Yanez was charged Nov. 16 in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree manslaughter and reckless discharge of a dangerous weapon. A trial date has not been set.
Falcon Heights resident Paula Mielke was as interested in what she didn't hear as what she did at Tuesday night's meeting.
The city's contract with the St. Anthony Police Department "is quantitative rather than qualitative," she said.
"So, for example, if the St. Anthony Police Department doesn't provide 24 hours of service, and provides 20, that's breach of contract. But if you shoot someone, that's not …" Mielke said. "There's no moral clause in the contract.
"Why aren't we asking to replace the current contract with a better contract? Maybe this group can come up with what are we going to evaluate that department on.
"I wonder if any of them have even read the contract," she said.