DULUTH - A nearly yearlong analysis of the Duluth Police Department shows a disconnect between local law enforcement and the city's Black, Indigenous and people of color community.
The Crime and Justice Institute's much-anticipated 90-page racial bias audit, released online Wednesday, found that some residents feel officers lack empathy — that they are treated as though they are "guilty until proven innocent." Meanwhile, some officers surveyed said they were hesitant to engage with people of color because of the "perception of racial tension."
This is among dozens of findings and possible solutions offered by the Boston-based nonprofit that was charged with looking into department operations, interactions with the community and the role of the Citizen Review Board. The Crime and Justice Institute, which was paid more than $270,000, used data, policies, body-cam footage and interviews with staff and residents in its research.
This is just the beginning, according to Blair Powless, a member of the Racial Bias Audit Team.
"I want to make sure that people understand that the work is not over," he said.
Crime and Justice Institute project manager Katie Zafft presented highlights from the report during a Human Rights Commission meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. There are two more public presentations on the report and a Q&A — including one hosted by the Citizen Review Board at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at City Hall, and another hosted by the Family Freedom Center at 7 p.m. Sept. 7.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Ceynowa, who inherited this analysis from his predecessor Mike Tusken, did not comment on the report.
"[The Duluth Police Department] will be engaged in the implementation process with community members following the public presentations," according to Police Department spokeswoman Mattie Hjelseth.
In the introduction to the report, Zafft, based in Duluth, described the department as one willing and able to police in an equitable way — but said there is room for improvement.
In a survey, 3% of respondents within the Police Department and 6% of residents said they have experienced racism directed at them.
Other points in the report:
- St. Louis County dispatchers are not trained to handle racially motivated emergency calls and there needs to be better communication between the county employees and the Duluth Police Department, the report said.
- The department has begun publishing quarterly traffic-stop data with information on race, neighborhood and action taken, but has not included similar information on pedestrian stops. The data that is published does not include context or trends.
- Police officers' use-of-force documentation is "unreliably used," according to Zafft. The institute suggests using the Force Review Board to investigate incidents beyond those that are lethal.
- More than half of the vehicle stops occur in the Central Business District, Central Hillside, East Hillside and Lincoln Park, lower-income neighborhoods around Duluth's downtown.
The institute suggested that police officers, per their policy, should introduce themselves at the start of an interaction. Thirty-four percent of interactions, taken from a random sampling, included an introduction.
Jamey Sharp, a member of the Law Enforcement Accountability Network [LEAN], said he is glad to see the Crime and Justice Institute confirming the findings that LEAN Duluth and the NAACP have been speaking on for more than three years. Now steps can be made to end racially discriminatory policing, he said.
"It shouldn't take an audit to listen to the lived experience of community members, and that's why LEAN will continue to do the work to listen to community voices and ensure the city has to respond to issues affecting people of Duluth due to the color of their skin," he said.
The audit was initiated in 2021 following several call-outs from the local NAACP chapter. At the time, data analysis showed that people of color were involved in use-of-force incidents and arrested at disproportionately higher rates than white residents.
The organization insisted on change.
"By December of 2022, we expect DPD use of force and arrest rates to be proportionate to the racial demographics of our region," the Duluth NAACP said in a March 2021 statement.
Mayor Emily Larson announced in April 2021 that the city would hire an independent consultant to conduct a department review, and the institute started its work in September.