Minneapolis targeting police interactions

by Rilyn Eischens

A partnership between universities nationwide and Minneapolis law enforcement is gearing up in order to change the way police interact with their communities. 
Minneapolis is one of six cities in the U.S. participating in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a project that will survey Minneapolis police forces and the communities they patrol to create more trusting relationships. 
The initiative, funded by a $4.75 million U.S. Department of Justice grant, will last three years. Officials announced the six cities earlier this year. 
U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General and University of Minnesota clinical law professor Mark Kappelhoff said he worked with a team at the Department of Justice to help create the initiative. 
He said the program was partially in response to the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer last year. He said the department engineered the program after realizing many communities don’t trust local law enforcement. 
The initiative will focus on creating an open conversation between police and area residents, acknowledging implicit bias. 
“If you feel you’ve had a say in the process and you feel you’ve been treated fairly, that’s more important than the result,” Kappelhoff said.
Criminal justice and social science researchers from universities like Yale Law School, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and University of California-Los Angeles are working with MPD officials to train police on community-friendly enforcement. 
As part of the initiative, program officials plan to target relations between police and minority groups like crime victims, youth and the LGBT community; though the approach will vary from city to city, project director Tracie Keesee said.
“If we go into some cities and we find that the relationship is poor or nonexistent between [the police and] the subpopulations, then what we will do is examine that and find out what unique interventions can be put into place,” she said. 
But some are skeptical the initiative will bring enough change to current tensions between police and minority groups.
Third-year University law student and the president of OutLaw, the law school’s LGBT association, Courtney Baga,  said she hopes researchers consider the needs of groups within the LGBT community when enforcing the initiative.
She also said she wants to see a bigger push for community education alongside police instruction.
Second-year University law student Walter Prescott said he is particularly concerned police might misunderstand the needs of transgender individuals.
“I hope that as part of the initiative, there will be some better education for dealing with transgender individuals in a law enforcement context and a procedural justice context,” he said. 
Despite their concerns, Baga said she is excited the city is taking action to better community and police relationships.
“We have a moment right now in our country where we are very focused on this issue … and I think we need to take advantage of it,” Kappelhoff said.