More than 80 Somali teens and several dozen adults met Saturday with officials from metro police departments, sheriffs' offices and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The event on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul included discussions on education, community policing and civil rights.
St. Paul Assistant Police Chief Rob Thomasser said the event's participants had frank talks about how to prevent violent extremism.
"The police department can not ignore that there was a point in time where people were leaving this community to go back to Africa to fight for a terrorist organization," Thomasser said. "That being said ... parents in the Somali community don't want their kids to go fight an old war in their old country. They want their kids to be healthy, they want their kids to be safe, and they want their family to be prosperous. And that's exactly what the St. Paul Police Department wants.
The event continued a dialogue that began in January during a meeting between local officials and the Somali community in Minneapolis.
Organizer Hindia Ali said events like these help the Somali community establish relationships with law enforcement.
"When we talk about community policing, it's not just the police that's doing the policing; it's the community doing the policing," Ali said. "So if they see somebody who's getting a little -- I don't want to say the word radical, but radicalized -- they should be there to help the police catch the criminals. And then that understanding that you're not putting the whole community in one category of being terrorists but you're just focusing on the individual."
Several young people at the meeting signed up to explore the possibility of careers in law enforcement.