Advocates share ideas on avoiding officer/citizen clashes
ST. PAUL -- When it comes to improving police relations with minorities, activist Trahern Crews can rattle a wish list off the top of his head. Crews wants police officers to carry individual liability insurance, which might force them to think t...
ST. PAUL - When it comes to improving police relations with minorities, activist Trahern Crews can rattle a wish list off the top of his head.
Crews wants police officers to carry individual liability insurance, which might force them to think twice about using excessive force on a suspect.
He also wants departments to diversify their hiring and says mental health experts should accompany police when a 911 call indicates a suspect is having a psychiatric crisis.
His list goes on.
Those and other recommendations are gaining heightened public attention following the death of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school worker who was pulled over Wednesday night in Falcon Heights and shot at least three times by a St. Anthony Police officer.
Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, maintains he was reaching for his I.D. when he was killed and had explained to the officer that he had a permit to carry a gun, which was holstered. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is handling the investigation.
From Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, to everyday community residents, thoughts on improving police ties to communities of color run the gamut.
Advocates say the same county prosecutors who work closely with local police departments to determine charges for everyday suspects are being called upon to present evidence against officers suspected of misconduct and brutality to grand juries. They say that’s a conflict of interest.
Others say police are being asked to do too much and need more help. That could include more options for treating the mentally ill. Others call for more training in de-escalation tactics and “implicit biases,” or hidden prejudices.
After a high-profile officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., researchers noted that police and court systems in the area were heavily funded by traffic citations, creating high incentive for officers in the predominantly white Ferguson police department to pull over and cite drivers in the predominantly black city.
St. Paul Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turner said his organization plans to release its own police-and-court reform platform before the end of the week.
Crews, a former St. Paul City Council candidate, works closely with St. Paul Black Lives Matter through what he calls an affiliate group, Black St. Paul.
Here’s a list of recommendations from social media, community advocates and protesters.
When residents sue big-city police departments for alleged misconduct, injury or brutality, it’s usually the city itself that settles the claim. The individual officer and police department pay nothing. Crews said it’s time for officers and departments to carry their own liability insurance, instead of having cities like St. Paul self-insure. Knowing that insurance premiums will rise, he said, could make police more accountable and think twice about using unnecessary force.
In Minneapolis, the Committee for Professional Policing has set up an informational website - insurethepolice.org - and urged the city to require officers to carry their own insurance.
During protests this week outside the governor’s mansion, some observers quietly noted that having the police carry individual liability insurance could backfire. Officers who feel more beholden to their insurance carrier than to their police chief or department might act like contractors, more worried about insurance rates than following orders.
Mental health responders
In September 2015, emergency dispatchers received a 911 call indicating that a possibly suicidal man was pacing in his backyard, threatening to hurt his girlfriend and wielding a screwdriver.
A St. Paul Police officer arrived on the scene and fatally shot Philip Quinn when he approached.
Witnesses said he had lunged at the officer, but they questioned whether police could have done more to subdue him without killing him, especially since dispatch was alerted in advance that Quinn was having some form of mental health crisis.
“We want mental health first responders to be on the scene,” Crews said. “When there’s a call and there’s a flag that there’s someone who has mental health issues, we want mental health (experts) on the scene.”
Live in the city
Having white officers from outside the community police urban, high-minority neighborhoods has been a longstanding sore point for communities of color. Many officers who work in urban police departments live in the suburbs.
Crews said familiarity with local residents and neighborhoods would help keep officers accountable.
Some police departments, including St. Paul, have experimented with incentives to keep officers living within city borders, such as free public housing. Those programs have reported mixed results.
After former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington became the chief of Metro Transit police in 2012, he took steps to improve minority recruitment and hiring.
Harrington interviews every applicant who passes the department’s civil service entrance exam, rather than just the top scorers. That’s allowed him to better screen candidates and gauge their skills, interests and experience.
Improving screening has helped increase diversity in the department in terms of female and racial minorities, who used to comprise 5 percent of the department. These days, it’s closer to 30 percent.
“I would like the governor and the mayor to alter the background check that the police have to go through,” said Kelis Houston, a Richfield woman who serves as board secretary for the Black Caucus DFL, during the protests outside the governor’s mansion last week. “These aren’t isolated incidents … It’s like we are crying to one system about the other, and they’re all in bed together – the courts, the police officers and the union. The mayor has the power to address the union contract which protects them, and if the mayor doesn’t have the power, the governor does.”
Another innovation in hiring Harrington employs at Metro Transit is increasing the number of points given on civil service entrance exams for candidates who speak a second language.
Metro Transit’s candidate recruitment is better targeted, thanks to partnerships with black and female police officers associations.
Recruiting candidates of color has been difficult in the suburbs and uneven in urban areas as well.
Turner noted that while nearly half of the 19 officers to earn St. Paul police badges in February were people of color, not a single one was African-American.
It was the city’s first academy class since 2010 from which no black officers graduated.
One African-American man was among the 25 people who started training in October, but he and five other people resigned from the strenuous 17-week academy for personal and physical reasons, said a police spokesman at the time.