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Amid Mpls. Vote, Views on MN Police Reforms Keep Evolving

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Wednesday, November 3, 2021   

MINNEAPOLIS - Nearly 18 months after the murder of George Floyd, efforts for police accountability and best practices continue to take shape in Minnesota. They range from this week's ballot question in Minneapolis to actions by law enforcement elsewhere.

Although Minneapolis voters soundly rejected a measure that would have replaced the police department with a Department of Public Safety that emphasizes a public-health approach, Pastor JaNaé Bates, communications director for "Yes 4 Minneapolis," the group behind the charter amendment, said the debate has propelled important discussions about how policing should look in the future. She said she feels the scope needs to be much bigger, "to really tap into the fact that policing is just one part of a public safety system, and that people across the country actually deserve to have their needs met."

Bates said some still wrongly assume a public-safety department would result in no law enforcement. Other reform advocates in Minneapolis have said they worry that recent violence will get worse if the police department goes through big changes.

In Rochester and Burnsville, police have said they're listening more to marginalized communities, and training for better responses in calls involving mental distress.

Despite what people might assume, said Burnsville Police Capt. Matt Smith, there are some in law enforcement who also want substantive changes. He pointed to his department creating a Behavioral Health Unit this past year, with part of the goal to avoid conflicts with officers.

"We've always known that we're not the best-trained mental-health providers, and a lot of times, we would respond to the same person over and over and we'd hit roadblocks," he said. "And to bring in professionals who, that's what they're trained in, to work alongside us, just seemed like a natural fit."

As for building trust with BIPOC residents, he said, they're enhancing outreach, including more meet-ups in public settings, such as city parks, where residents feel comfortable talking with officers.

Rochester Police Training Lt. Paul Gronholz said his department has emphasized Crisis Intervention Training for more than a decade. He added that they're focusing more on hiring officers of color in hopes of establishing trust.

"Without the authority from the community," he said, "police - we can't do our jobs."


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