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Cops and Cams: How Mayor Hodges hopes to change the MPD’s relationship with the city’s black community

In Minneapolis, where 64 percent of the population is Caucasian, white officers make up 79 percent of the force.

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, happened the weekend before Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges delivered her first budget address to the City Council. So the initiatives outlined in the budget regarding the Minneapolis Police Department were well in the works before the incident. 

But as the sometimes-violent standoff between Ferguson police and members and supporters of the town’s black community received more media coverage, the issues raised in the budget gained resonance.

Hodges called for an increase in the number of sworn officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, partly to allow them time to get out of squad cars more often and develop relationships with residents and business owners. She also proposed paying for two additional classes of community service officer classes. Long considered a stepping-stone to becoming sworn officers, the CSO positions offer one method to recruit more people of color to the department.

Finally, Hodges proposed fully funding a project she raised during her successful campaign for mayor last year: putting body cameras on each officer. “Body cams have been shown to decrease both use of force and complaints about excessive force,” Hodges said in her budget address to the council.

While the initiatives predated Ferguson, they are attempts to address many of the same issues, Hodges said in an interview Tuesday (and in a blog entry she posted Sunday on mayorhodges.com).

“I have felt that tension as I have walked on the North Side, I have felt it as I walk downtown, and I felt is as I have walked the first floor of City Hall as our officers have come in and out,” she wrote. “The tension we feel here is not about Ferguson, not really. It is about Minneapolis.”

But are the proposed changes enough to alter what Hodges wrote is a “legacy of brutal oppression of people of color in this country, this state and this city”? 

“It is clear to me these things are necessary,” Hodges said Tuesday. “It is not yet obvious to anyone what will be sufficient.” 

MPD diversity ‘not where we want to be’

One issued raised by Ferguson is the racial disparity between the community and the police force. The town near St. Louis is 67 percent black — yet the police force of 53 has three or four black officers (reporting of the number has differed).

In Minneapolis, where 64 percent of the population is Caucasian, white officers make up 79 percent of the force. And though 18.6 percent of the city is black, 9.2 percent of the force — 74 officers — are African-American. Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans are also underrepresented compared to their population numbers.

The Minneapolis Park Police is even less diverse than the MPD, with five people of color among the 32 officers, just two of whom are black. (St. Paul, which is 60 percent white, has a police force that is 82 percent white.)

And the hiring spree Minneapolis is undertaking in response to a wave of retirements may not do much to change the overall numbers. The new batch of prospective sworn officers and community-service officers (including recruits and cadets) is around 70 percent white.

The problem with minority hiring is not that nonwhites aren’t making the grade, Hodges said, it’s that they’re not applying.

“I’ve had more than one meeting with folks in the Somali community, and they are very eager to have more Somali police officers,” Hodges said. “And what I say is, ‘If we’re going to have more, you have to apply, and you have to ask people to apply.’ ”

Council Member Abdi Warsame, the city’s first Somali-American council member, shares Hodges concerns about the paucity of minority applications. “We need to look into why,” he said.

And like Hodges, Warsame said he thinks a racially diverse police force is important to improve relations between people of color and the department. “We don’t want to see anything like [Ferguson] happen in Minneapolis or Minnesota.”

Warsame welcomes Hodges’ push to get officers out of their cars more often. “The children and families in my ward have welcomed them,” he said of his 6th Ward, which centers on Cedar-Riverside. “It’s important to build rapport with the community.”

On Aug. 19, OccupyMN held a "Chalk the Police State" protest
On Aug. 19, OccupyMN held a “Chalk the Police State” protest at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve on Hennepin Ave.

But Ward 5 Council Member Blong Yang, who heads the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee, said the department is woefully short of having enough officers to change how they patrol. He said there are only about 770 sworn officers now, and the department has a goal of adding 100 officers. And even that may not been enough, he said: “At 860-870, we’ll still have an issue with staffing.”

As for diversity among officers, Yang said,  “I don’t think we’re close to where we want to be” and said the community service officer recruiting is suffering from the same shortcomings as recruitment for sworn officers. “Sometimes you can try hard and still not reach your goals if you’re not doing the right thing, or doing what you’ve always done,” he said.

And which of those afflicts Minneapolis’ effort when it comes to diversifying the police force?

“A little of both,” Yang said. He noted the achievement gap among African-Amercans in earning the college degrees required to apply to join the police department, though the CSO program works to remedy that. And he cited the disconnect between racial minority groups and the very idea of being a cop.

‘A police force that looks like the community … goes a long way’

Recent national polling displays vast differences between black and while people when it comes to attitudes about police. Though 30 percent of all adults rank police departments as “excellent” or “good” in how they hold officers accountable when misconduct occurs, according to a Pew Research Center poll, only 10 percent of black respondents ranked police similarly.

Do police treat racial and ethnic groups equally? Thirty eight percent of white respondents thought so, giving police agencies excellent or good ratings on the question. But just 10 percent of blacks did so. And regarding police use of force, the spread was even wider, with 41 percent of whites give police excellent or good ratings on the issue, while just 6 percent of blacks did so.

Hodges said she thinks the initiatives in her budget — community policing, diversity among officers and body cameras — could help increase those numbers locally. As “officers spend more time with people, they get to know the community,” Hodges said. “When something does go wrong, they have more time to spend with people and you need more police officers to do that effectively.”

“And having a police force that looks like the community, having a police force that … come from the community, goes a long way toward people feeling a connection to the police department.” she said.

“I have high expectations for officers and want to hold them accountable while understanding there are thousands and thousands of interactions with the community each year and they are doing a great job out there,” Hodges said. “But there are some officers who misbehave, and it makes the rest of the officers look bad, and it also heightens some communities’ mistrust of the police.”

One of Hodges’ most high-profile budget initiatives has Yang’s support — body cameras.

“It would be very good for public trust,” Yang said. He cited the conflicting versions of what happened during the recent confrontation between officers and activist Al Flowers as an example of how they could help. “It would have told us what was said, what happened,” Yang said.

John Delmonico, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, told MPR that he thinks cameras could be helpful, but is waiting for policies and procedures regarding their use,  something not yet released by Chief Janeé Harteau. The first three dozen cameras are expected to be in use by fall with full roll out next year.

Support for the cameras has also come from the ACLU of Minnesota, as long as the policies are consistent, said Chuck Samuelson, the organization’s executive director. “Officers can’t pick and choose when to turn the cameras on.”

The ACLU believes the data gathered is public data. And while there can be editing done to protect privacy that editing should never be done “by the guy who was wearing it.”  

Samuelson also sees comparisons with Ferguson in Minneapolis, and thinks a culture change is needed in the department, something he believes community policing could help remedy. “North Minneapolis could be the next Ferguson,” Samuelson said. “The Minneapolis police patrol there like an occupying force.”  

For Hodges, the attention given Ferguson puts the spotlight on issues that she has been talking about for nearly two years.

“It highlighted for some people issues around race — certainly about police and community relations but issues about race generally,” she said. “The tensions around it are higher when you have a situation like that. It’s an opportunity for us to propel the work forward even more.” 

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Robert Langford on 08/27/2014 - 11:36 am.

    The right focus

    This new mayor is paying attention to the right issues. Effective police function is perhaps the most significant environmental aspect of good community living. We are at the very edge of comfortable in Minneapolis right now, and thoughtful attention to police function for our community must be a top priority, and the Mayor has it right. Keep a news view of this issue so it doesn’t go away before we get it right.

  2. Submitted by Paul Linnee on 08/27/2014 - 12:10 pm.

    Missing ingredient in discussion of racial makeup of police

    What few seem to understand, and fewer mention as they write on the topic of “making police more representative of the community they serve” is the fact that law enforcement agencies in Minnesota are only permitted to hire as cops, troopers or deputies persons who are “eligible to be licensed as peace officers”. This means the ‘pool of potential hires’ is a very limited group of people who have a.) Achieved a two year (minimum) Associate’s Degree in Law Enforcement from a recognized Minnesota educational institution (many Community Colleges offer them) and b.) Have completed the Basic Police Skills several month practical training program. Only after having been admitted to and then successfully graduating from both programs is one “eligible to be licensed” (By the Minnesota P.O.S.T. Board), and only then can one be hired as a police officer, deputy sheriff, state trooper or DNR enforcement officer.

    Having said all this, the emphasis on changing the ethnic makeup of police forces has to be done WAY down stream from the actual end hiring agency. This means that there need to be recruiters in the high schools channeling the desired ethnic groups into the 2 year college programs, and then guiding them throughout, offering them jobs as non-sworn Police Cadets or Community Service Officers and then mentoring them on passing the various forms of entrance exams which only persons ‘eligible to be licensed’ as peace officers may take.

    All of this may sound like a complex process, but it is not much different that the making, licensing and hiring of our teachers. It has been this way for over 25 years, and the net result has been (in my opinion) the general improvement of our state’s law enforcement personnel in terms of education, intelligence, integrity and perseverance (needed to make it through the process to become a cop).

    The process of “becoming a cop” varies greatly from state to state, and Minnesota is clearly in the forefront of at least trying to professionalize the job and the process of getting the job and removing it from the “who you know” and “who your brother-in-law is” type of old boys network of the last century.

    However, none of this is to say that our ‘system and process’ of becoming a cop in Minnesota is perfect. It seems as if there is a potential for subtle to overt discrimination as early as the step of who gets into (and out of) the 2 year college program, and if that is the case, it needs to be addressed.

    My main point, however, is that changing the ethnic or racial make-up, much less the culture of police departments is a task far beyond the reach, grasp, control and/or influence of individuals (well meaning as they may be) such as Betsy Hodges, Mark Dayton, Janee Harteau or any other person speaking or writing on the topic today.

    • Submitted by Pat McGee on 08/27/2014 - 02:17 pm.

      Qualifications

      …also include the absence of a criminal record. Further limiting the potential applicant pool. Rightly or wrongly non-whites have a greater percentage with records.

  3. Submitted by Amy Farland on 08/31/2014 - 10:27 am.

    treats the symptoms not the cause

    http://fah451bks.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/the-parable-of-the-unjust-judge-or-fear-of-a-nigger-nation-grant-me-justice-against-my-adversary-luke-181-4/

    “When you recognize this essential truth, it becomes uncomfortably clear that an alliance with whites newly uncomfortable with police militarization and misconduct is not an answer. I agree that we should take steps to demilitarize the police, and I agree that that we should require police officers to wear cameras and install them on their dashboards. But let’s not pretend that these measures would constitute a solution to the problem of state violence done to blacks. New regulations to restrict police usage of the paraphernalia of military occupation will not stop them from taking the attitudes of occupiers. The police did not need military weapons to kill Eric Garner. They didn’t even need a gun. Forcing the police to put cameras on their dashes and wear them on their bodies is a good idea, but it will not force them to respect the humanity of black bodies, and it might not even be sufficient to get justice after the fact. Oscar Grant was shot in the back, while lying prone on the pavement, in full view of multiple cameras, and his killer received less than a year in county jail. And let us not fail to name, either, the fear awakened in many white people, that the police force in Ferguson could one day be at the gates of their own town, that it already is: it is the fear of being treated like niggers. The troubling scenes we’ve seen in Ferguson – of the abrogation of basic civil rights, of the lack of respect for the community being policed, of casual brutality and harassment of the citizenry, of a police force taking the aggressive crouch of an occupying army – these scenes might be new to many white Americans, but for black America, they are as old as Reconstruction and as familiar as Sunday. Our white allies can alleviate their fears by returning the country to some imagined golden age of the friendly neighborhood constable, whistling as he strolls his beat, idly swinging his baton. Black Americans don���t have to be civil rights scholars to know that there is no idyllic utopia there for us.”

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