After St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop, Gov. Mark Dayton created the Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relations to find ways to improve relations between the public and police. That would ostensibly lead to fewer lethal confrontations between officers and citizens.
Nearly a year later, on Friday, the council held its final meeting and delivered those recommendations to Dayton. The council was asked to perform a daunting task: solve or at least lessen a social problem that has plagued this country and state for decades.
There were “listening sessions,” some of them volatile, others quite civil. There were work groups and preliminary reports and now a list of suggestions that will be considered by Dayton and the Legislature. The recommendations were approved by a 6-3 vote of the council, with 1 abstention.
Surprise: Not everybody is happy.
The recommendations included a wide variety of tactics, from data collection on who gets arrested to a suggestion that a special prosecutor work alongside a county attorney in police shootings of unarmed people. The group also recommends police training in mediation, de-escalation tactics and mental health encounters, as well as several specific ways police administrations can recruit and keep minority officers.
One Twin Cities-based group that monitors police behavior called the final report “generally vague, thus difficult to implement and unmeasurable,” according to a letter sent to the council by Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB).
The group’s conclusion was harsh: “When police kill the next person, do not wonder why the Governor’s Council recommendations failed to prevent it. There’s nothing in these recommendations that can or will decrease the likelihood of it happening again.”
James Burroughs drew the short straw to spearhead this effort for the governor, and he begs to differ. “I don’t agree with [the conclusion],” said Burroughs, the state’s chief inclusion officer. “I think the work of the council is by no means the end of the journey, it’s the beginning.”
Burroughs said that would not exclude future public input, including from groups such as CUAPB. He acknowledged the council probably made some early mistakes and did not widely publish times and places for the meetings, which drew between 15 and 40 people. Those meetings varied in tone, he said.
“I would say they were passionate,” said Burroughs. In retrospect, “you never do enough [to publicize the meetings], you can always do better. I even acknowledged that I couldn’t find the meetings on our website.”
Dave Bicking, of CUAPB, said that after the deaths of Jamar Clark and Castile, “They said we’ve got to show the community we care and are going to do something. The group was set up to make sure nothing has changed.
“One of the solutions was something like, ‘police and the public should understand each other,’ ” said Bicking. “There’s nothing you can do to determine or measure that. There is still no accountability, it just does not exist in the Minneapolis Police Department.
“What they carefully avoided was the voice of anybody with some experience on the ground. The final result is, there is no there there.”
Some specific recommendations the council could have made include prohibiting officers from taking the “Bulletproof Warrior” training that coaches cops to be especially aggressive. “So much good could come out of a recommendation like that,” Bicking said.
Chuck Turchick attended several of the public listening meetings. “I’m not impressed with the transparency at all,” said Turchick. He had to ask three times whether the council was subject to the Open Meeting Law. “This was frightening,” said Turchick.
The group CUAPB said the entire debate was framed wrong, as the thrust was on “building trust” and “police/community relations.”
“This is a false framing,” the group wrote. “The issue is QUALITY of policing and the general LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY of police.”
Burroughs said the council did not address accountability directly, but most of the 15 voting members agree there are problems that need to be handled through police departments, city regulations and the Legislature. He said “valid criticisms” were raised along the way. “I think this was a worthwhile process,” he said. “It was not a perfect process.”
The Rev. Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church agrees. He voted to approve the recommendations, but doesn’t think they go far enough.
“At times it was frustrating,” said Herron. “We had a few honest discussions, but not as many as I had hoped. We have to transform policing, and I think there was a taste of that. We are moving in the right direction, but you don’t get there overnight. We didn’t get here overnight.”
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