In a recent series of four workshops, 62 members of Woodbury’s police force walked through the 1968 Exhibit at the Minnesota History Center contemplating the relationship between police and the community.
That visit and the accompanying discussions helped the department meet new objectives set last summer by the Legislature and the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. Training requirements include topics such as the history of race relations and how implicit and explicit biases can influence decisionmaking.
“The exhibit gave us really great context for these conversations,” said Woodbury police Sgt. Neil Bauer. “You could see law enforcement’s presence in many of these different civic moments.”
Closed just last month, the 1968 exhibit depicted the historical, political and social moments that defined one of the 20th century’s most tumultuous years. The exhibit originally ran at the History Center from 2011 to 2012 and returned in 2017.
The racism and inequality that marked 1968 — the same year the Woodbury police department was formed — prompted officers to think about what has and hasn’t changed over the last half century, said Chris Taylor, chief inclusion officer with the Minnesota Historical Society.
“Some of the history does hit close to home for them and there’s this realization that these are long-term issues,” Taylor said. “The contemporary issues we see in terms of community policing or police interacting across racial lines and in different communities have been happening for a long time.”
The course for police, developed by Bauer and Taylor, included short lectures and time for discussion questions that asked officers to reflect on ways the department can reduce bias and improve relationships with diverse communities.
“This was a unique way to do this training,” Bauer said. “And with the 50th anniversary of our own department, it was a way to frame a look at our own history.”
Bauer and Taylor met in a doctoral program at the University of St. Thomas and brainstormed about ways to link their work. Bauer is a member of Woodbury’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, which was formed in 2013 and aims to better serve residents as the city grows more diverse.
“Neil really understands his position as a white male, and he understands how him doing this diversity and inclusion work can be perceived within an already established culture and system,” Taylor said. “I think he’s really pushing the envelope ... and I’m appreciative that the entire department from the chief on down participated in this training.”
Taylor hopes to see more community partnerships that can use history to spark conversations about social issues. He said the Historical Society aims to be a community resource beyond just a host for exhibits and collections.
“We really want to think about how we can use some of our resources for social impact,” Taylor said. “The hope is that this type of work is going on in several different sectors of society.”