With feds’ help, city targets unfair policing practices

Nick Wicker

Minneapolis is taking steps to build trust between its police department and residents.
As city officials strive to obtain more data on Minneapolis’ law enforcement practices in an attempt to target problematic methods, the work of a new federal program geared toward improving the city’s citizen-officer relationship is progressing.
In 2013, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau asked the U.S. Department of Justice to perform an investigation of the city’s policing practices. The department released its results in January, which showed racial disparities. 
As a result, Minneapolis was selected by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. last month as one of six cities in the country to take part in a pilot program to help quell racial bias and improve police practices.
At a Police Conduct Oversight Commission meeting last week, Harteau said the program, called the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, will include community outreach events and implicit bias training for officers.
At the meeting, Harteau presented the new program’s goals and stressed the importance of police involvement in communities where there’s little trust between citizens and law enforcement officials. 
“Issues of racial bias are on the forefront of everybody’s minds when it comes to police procedures,” said the commission’s vice chair Jennifer Singleton at last week’s meeting. “I think it’s in the best interest of the Minneapolis Police Department to get ahead of this issue.” 
Minneapolis will frequently give data to the Department of Justice that measures community members’ perception and trust. The agency has also started documenting positive interactions between officers and residents, Harteau said at last week’s meeting.
City officials have recently pressured the police department to collect more data on law enforcement practices.
Ryan Patrick, a legal analyst at the Office of Police Conduct Review, presented an investigation of the department’s arrests and stops to city officials last week. 
Patrick said he found officers record routine stops of civilians based on suspicion only 26 percent of the time. He recommended officers record more of these stops to analyze potential racial biases.
Singleton said it was important to record as much information about arrests and stops as possible to improve Minneapolis’ policing techniques. 
Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the University of Minnesota area and its surrounding neighborhoods, has a long history of pushing for more police oversight. He said he hopes the new program will improve community and police relations, but he wants the city to focus on other immediate changes in enforcement practices.
Last month, Gordon proposed a policy change to repeal some of the city’s low-level offenses — like lurking and spitting on sidewalks — that affect minorities at higher rates. He said he hopes the city will consider changes like his proposal in addition to the new federal program.
“We have yet to see how much technical assistance and resources we’ll really get from the federal government,” Gordon said.