Minneapolis officials are hopeful the city’s participation in a national program on policing and justice will help mend increasingly visible tensions between police and some community members.
The city is one of six across the country selected for the National Initiative on Building Community Trust and Justice, a project led by a handful of university professors with expertise in the area and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The three-year program will include training for police, city leaders and community members on recognizing their own biases toward others, will gather data on how police interact with different groups and will prompt police and community members to meet and talk about their grievances.
Council Member Blong Yang and Mayor Betsy Hodges said Wednesday that they want to set aside $305,000 for the project, and Wednesday night the City Council voted to reallocate that amount for the project. The money will come from savings in the police salary budget and from the city’s planned LED streetlight upgrade program.
The project director, a former Denver police official who holds a doctorate in intercultural communications, has already been meeting with people in Minneapolis and will help oversee the work. The city has set up a timeline for surveys, training and a “reconciliation and truth-telling process” that will include small-group community gatherings.
In a committee meeting Wednesday, council members said the November police shooting of Jamar Clark and the weeks of protests that followed highlight the need for police department change.
Council Member Cam Gordon said he hopes the work will extend to neighborhoods and residents that are not generally involved in conversations about police-community relations, including the “white, middle-class parts of the city who may be oblivious that there’s even a problem or a need to reconcile anything.
“That oblivion as a whole has been eroding away because of what’s been happening in the national and the local setting, and that’s really significant,” he said.
Hodges, who also attended the meeting, said the initiative has been in the works for a year and will take time to show results.
“This isn’t just about making nice, this isn’t just about: ‘Oh, at the last minute, we need to be responsive to an issue people have raised recently,’ ” she said. “We’ve been at this for a long time. We’ve had this vision for a while now.”
But several people who spoke at the meeting said the issues are more urgent. Some, including Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds, said they are encouraged by and supportive of the city’s participation in the initiative. But they also want to be sure the city is targeting the right problems and listening to the people who have experienced them.
Angela Conley, a resident of south Minneapolis, said the city needs to do more to gather the thoughts of “regular residents” rather than the leaders brought out to speak at news conferences.
“Community leaders are actually residents in the communities, not who you might deem as a community leader,” she said.
Other speakers said they were concerned the city would focus too much on training meant to identify biases police officers might not be aware they have toward certain groups, and not enough on more obvious expressions of bias or prejudice.
After the meeting, Police Chief Janeé Harteau told reporters that she’s been working on diversifying the department and building trust with community members. She said people shouldn’t see her department — or a building like the Fourth Precinct, the site of recent protests — as a sign of division.
“A police precinct is the symbol for justice,” she said.