Pilot project seeks ways to build police-community trust

Small group meetings have so far found little consensus

Dr. Tracie Keesee
Dr. Tracie Keesee

Minneapolis is one of six pilot cities selected to look into improving police-community relations. The city was selected last year for the three-year project by the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice (NI).

The NI website says each city is considered based on such factors as geographic diversity, jurisdiction size, ethnic and religious composition, and population density, along with “each site’s willingness and capacity to engage in the three-pronged approach of the National Initiative.” This includes looking at the city’s “special subpopulations,” including youth, LGBTQ, domestic violence and sexual assault victims, Latinos, and one or more neighborhoods dealing with youth violence and gangs.

The project’s manager, Dr. Tracie Keesee, and her team made two site visits to Minneapolis last year. “We spent the last year in small community meetings,” she recalled after meeting January 19 with a small, invited group of community members, Metro State University faculty, and others at the school’s Brooklyn Park campus during a two-day visit.

Each city is different, said Keesee, describing Minneapolis as “a different environment” since her last visit in November, largely due to the Jamal Clark shooting. As a result, her main goal last week was to hear firsthand accounts from people “who have established relationships in the Minneapolis community” in preparing for a three-day visit next month.

The nearly 20-person group included Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Medaria Arradondo. Keesee pointed out that everyone including police must be involved in the work of improving police-community relations.

“We cannot do anything without talking about the police department,” she said. The current “unhealthiness culture of Minneapolis” is affecting both the community and police. “Neither [side] is in a good space right now.”

“People can’t trust one another,” added David Starks, a longtime Northside resident who has been actively involved in planning many Metro State events on racial justice and mass incarceration issues, including the school’s mass incarceration understanding and responding forum held on its main campus in St. Paul each spring.

Starks was a participant in last week’s meeting at Metro State, as was Above the E.D.G.E. founding CEO Quadree “Coach Q” Drakeford, who noted that he especially liked hearing Keesee talk about reconciliation. “We can’t reconcile the disparities until we can…hear from the people about what these disparities are,” he told the MSR after the meeting.

Drakeford supports Keesee’s goal for meeting community residents and others in small groups next month. “If she does what she says she will do…[to] get some good feedback from folk that are hurting, then I believe you can take some of that” and use it in policy planning.

Metro State Assistant Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Professor Raj Sethuraju told the MSR that he hopes the discussion includes police living in the communities where they serve. “We have to bridge the gap between community [and police] and then have that conversation.” added the professor. “That is a long debate we have to have.”

“The key thing that I am hearing [is] that there is no consensus on how everybody is feeling,” reported Metro State Associate Criminal Justice Professor James Densley. He said he enjoyed hearing “the wealth of knowledge” from the persons who attended the meeting. He previously met with Keesee during a visit last summer.

“We are still trying to get our head around what it means to try to move forward,” Densley said. “A lot of people talked about reconciliation and facing history in order to be able to have justice in the community. To get there, we also have to recognize the power dynamics that apply both in law enforcement and within the community itself.”

“It is not a consensus in law enforcement to say this is the law enforcement perspective on this issue,” explained Densley. “There also is not a consensus in the community where we can say this is the community perspective on this issue.”

“Community is defined differently by different folk,” said Keesee, whose group is scheduled to return to Minneapolis February 4, 5 and 6. She prefers small-group meetings as opposed to large-scale ones.

After last week’s meeting, Keesee told the MSR, “What I think was successful [about her visit] was what I learned from the community. Not just the history of Minneapolis and the relationships, [(but] their thoughts on how we can move forward and what real steps have to happen. It’s not just large steps in the city, but [in] the individual communities [as well].”

“There is optimism, pain,” continued Keesee. However, “a lot of people [are] wanting to be a part of the solution and have a lot to give.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.