More than 100 people came out Thursday night in Falcon Heights to hear community leaders and residents talk about how they can help change policing tactics in the wake of the July 6 shooting death of Philando Castile.
The four-member panel, along with moderator Sarah Greenman, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University, included Melvin Carter Jr., a retired St. Paul police sergeant and founder of Save Our Sons, a group that works with at-risk young black men; former state Rep. Mindy Greiling, who talked about a Roseville-Area League of Women Voters report on policing; Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, and Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP.
All agreed that police, not only in Falcon Heights, but across the Twin Cities and the state, need to collect more data, re-emphasize implicit bias and de-escalation training, and determine just how much priority to give low-level offenses such as vehicle equipment violations.
After each panel member talked for 10 minutes about their life, their work and their reports, residents had a chance to ask questions.
“Why does there need to be training to teach [police officers] not to shoot black people when they don’t need training not to shoot white people?” one young black man asked.
“It’s about the people we hire,” Carter responded. In his day, he said, officers often patrolled the neighborhoods where they grew up. Now departments hire officers from far away, almost like the NFL.
“We have to abandon this ‘us against them’ mentality,” he said earlier in the evening. “The trust is deteriorating. ... If there’s no trust, it’s not community policing at all.”
Greiling talked about a League of Women Voters study done two years ago that looked at policing issues in five cities: Maplewood and Roseville, which have their own departments, Little Canada, which is patrolled by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, and Falcon Heights and Lauderdale, patrolled by St. Anthony.
Maplewood, Roseville and the Sheriff’s Office employ a “community policing strategy,” while the emphasis is slightly different in St. Anthony.
The goal there is to “arrest offenders, prevent crime, solve problems and increase overall quality of life. Officers are expected to work on all crimes, big and small. The belief is that little things like barking dogs, have large effects on quality of life,” the report said.
Said Greiling, “This was a legitimate philosophy at one time, but that to me is the definition of the ‘broken window’ philosophy.”
Police chiefs in each city were asked for demographic data on traffic stops and each said they couldn’t provide it.
“If we wanted that question to be answered, they would have to go to considerable trouble and run extra blah blah blahs and so forth,” Greiling said. “So we ended up being too nice.”
To see the full report, go to www.lwvrosevillearea.org.
It came as a surprise when that very data came out in the media after Castile’s shooting. What the league found was that black residents of Falcon Heights were stopped at 10 times the rate of whites.
Martin, who said he experienced subtle and blatant racism as a child, urged hope along with change.
“The only people who are going to solve this problem …. are the people that are in this room,” he said. “Change is going to happen. Progress is what’s elusive. That’s what we have to fight for.”
Thursday’s event was held at Falcon Heights United Church of Christ and sponsored by Falcon Heights We Can Do Better, a citizens group.
On Sept. 21, the Falcon Heights City Council approved resolutions to create a city/citizens task force to make recommendations on police policies Another tri-city work group will talk about police officer body cameras. Applications for both groups are available at the Falcon Heights City Hall and on the city’s website, www.falconheights.org.