"What are the police going to do to help us, and how can we help them get these neighborhoods back?" asks Lena Slaughter.  Credit: Michelle Bruch

"What are the police going to do to help us, and how can we help them get these neighborhoods back?" asks Lena Slaughter. Credit: Michelle Bruch

Mayor and Police Chief hear pleas for better police conduct

Updated: October 14, 2014 - 8:50 pm

Anita Gates said she’s been the personal victim of police brutality on at least five occasions, and she’s lost feeling in her wrists due to tight handcuffs. Gates, a Native American, is a teacher at Augsburg Fairview Academy at 25th & Columbus. She said she’s seen police officers terrify black students walking out of school, pulling them to the ground while responding to an incident in the area.

Gates spoke at a community listening session Oct. 8 at Macedonia Baptist Church in Kingfield, which was attended by Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief JaneƩ Harteau. In an effort to address public concern about police relations, Hodges and Harteau laid out their strategies for improvement: a body camera pilot, more community policing on beats, diversity training, more officers of color, early intervention for troubled officers and more transparency.

“Change doesn’t come quickly, but change is coming and we are making progress,” Harteau said.

“It is critically important that we get right the issue of the relationship between our police department and our community,” said Hodges. “If we don’t get it right, we get a lot of things really wrong.”

Gates asked the chief about psychiatric evaluation of officers.

In response, Harteau said new hires are thoroughly evaluated, but it’s hard to know how the job might affect a young person long-term. This week, the federal Office of Justice Programs (OJP) recommended a revamped early intervention program for Minneapolis officers with signs of trouble.

In an Oct. 8 open letter, Hodges said some officers “abuse the trust” afforded to them, and “take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it.”

Hodges’ statement came in response to an open letter signed by about 300 people and submitted by Nekima Levy-Pounds, a professor and director of a civil rights legal clinic. The letter said they were offended Harteau skipped a planned listening session last month. Harteau said she acted on tips that the meeting could become physically violent, but Levy-Pounds said that speculation reinforced community stereotypes. She pressed for a culture change at the MPD to improve relations with the community.

Some residents at the Oct. 8 meeting also expressed frustration at a perceived lack of progress on policing issues.

“We talk a lot of talk, but we never get things done, and our children are in danger,” said Betty Ellison-Harpole, a retired Minneapolis teacher.

In response, Hodges said her budget allocates money for community policing and community service officers (in recent years CSO class members were 50 percent people of color or more). The MPD currently stands at about 20 percent officers of color, according to Hodges, in a city that is 40 percent people of color.

“I understand that diversity does not solve equity, but it can help get us to where we need to go,” she said.

Harteau has brought in a consultant to teach officers about “implicit bias,” and Harteau said she was first to undergo the training. She said discrimination today often takes a subtle form. The Office of Justice Programs found the most common reports of officer misconduct are lack of respect, unprofessional language or tone, and lack of cultural competence and sensitivity. Harteau said internal affairs complaints have dropped 45 percent in the past six years. She fired six officers for misconduct since becoming chief, two of them after they were caught on video making racial slurs. 

“I would hope that people would also see that you have a female person of color as police chief,” Harteau said. “I assure you I know what discrimination feels like.”

Harteau is also emphasizing beat work and urging cops to get out of their cars, though she said the change is difficult when police must speed from call to call. In the same way the department tracks arrests, they are now tracking community engagement, she said. Harteau said she’s asking officers to spend more time on burglary calls, for example, even if suspect information is limited. Officers are increasingly working as initial investigators and talking to neighbors, she said.

“I tell people this is not a drive-thru service,” Harteau said. “Our goal is that you’re not a repeat customer. … Doing more intelligence and investigative work at that time has been netting our burglaries going down, because we’re actually finding we can have an impact. They’re not impossible to solve.”

The department is also undertaking a “police legitimacy procedural justice” study in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, focusing on East African and Somali-American communities, done in partnership with the national Police Executive Research Forum.

“I believe the community gets to decide how much authority we as police have,” Harteau said. “You decide if you call 911. You decide how much authority we have to police your neighborhood. You decide if you’re going to tell us who did it.”

Lena Slaughter said some residents are indeed afraid to call 911. Slaughter lived at 44th & Clinton until gang activity prompted her to move to North Minneapolis. Now she’s moved to the suburbs, and she gave an emotional plea for a safer North side.

“Now I don’t even go and see people that I love because it’s scary,” she said. “These young men have a scare tactic. They sit on corners and half of them you know are selling drugs, and the police just ride by and do nothing. We should not be scared to come out after it gets dark outside. What are the police going to do to help us, and how can we help them get these neighborhoods back? Because they’re falling to pieces.”

Harteau said crime stats indicate otherwise.

“Statistically what you’re saying doesn’t match when I look at the number of arrests, crime trends, crime numbers,” she said. “But perception is reality.”

She said Minneapolis’ overall crime is down 1 percent and violent crime is up nearly 4 percent, rates that stand on top of 30-year lows.

“We have a really solid foundation to build upon,” she said.

One resident who lives at the edge of Powderhorn Park said she’s hesitant to call police and feed youth into a pattern of incarceration.

Hodges said she understood the concern, as Minnesota has the largest incarceration rates for men of color. She said a single entrance into the criminal justice system significantly reduces a young person’s chance of graduating. As an alternative, she recommended Restorative Justice, where victims of criminal behavior sit down face-to-face with offenders. She also highlighted outreach workers who approached youth hanging out Downtown last summer. The outreach workers checked to see if youth needed any help, and recommended alternative activities for them.

Brooklyn Center resident Renee Brown, a Crusaders Ministries pastor, offered to volunteer with police as advocates.

“Do you have any advocates in the police station that understand the youth, that are working directly with the parents, that can come along and assist you?” Brown said.

Hodges said money proposed in her budget would offer coaching for parents of adolescents.

“People really like to invest in children; they don’t necessarily like to invest in adults,” Hodges said. “We know that for our young people parents are incredibly crucial actors in their lives; nothing replaces that.”

Residents raised several other issues: One Phillips resident asked for more transparency in the chief’s meetings. Longfellow resident Liz Oppenheimer questioned whether a diverse police force could really provide systemic change while embedded in a “white supremacist” society. Lyndale resident Rachel Bean pressed for public access to body camera video. 

KG Wilson, a Central neighborhood resident and peace activist, said he doesn’t think the police department deserves sole responsibility for the current state of affairs.

“The adults have become afraid of the children,” he said. “We can’t keep pushing it at the chief of police or the police department. It is our responsibility. … Black men, if you’re in here, it is time to stop being cowards. This is our children who are terrorizing our community.”

After the meeting, Slaughter said she plans to start doorknocking and connect with parents who are worried about their kids.

“When parents say, ‘Help me,’ they almost have to have their kids go to jail before they get help,” she said.

Two similar listening sessions are on the calendar: Oct. 14 at Church of the Ascension, 1723 Bryant Ave. N.; and Oct. 30 in a Cedar Riverside location to be determined. For more information, visit facebook.com/MinneapolisPoliceDepartment.