Police reform: What kind of change is possible and how do we get there?

A group of people wearing face masks stand together outside.
George Floyd's sister, Bridgett Floyd; attorney Ben Crump; Philando Castile's mother Valerie Castile; Jamar Clark's birth mother, Irma Burns; and Bishop Harding Smith of Spiritual Church of God speak before the ninth annual National Homeless Day event Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 in downtown Minneapolis. The Floyd family launched a nonprofit foundation that focuses on police reform and racial justice.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck last May reignited the call for sweeping police reform across the country. After Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder, can Minnesota and the United States define police reform and identify areas for actual change?

Brian Fullman, the lead organizer of the Barbershop and Black Congregation Cooperative within the nonprofit ISAIAH, told host Angela Davis that, when it comes to police reform in the communities he works with, “people are saying that they want a power shift.”

“What I’m hearing from people is: ‘We’re not quite ready not to have any law enforcement or peace officers, but we need to be their boss,’” Fullman said.

Fullman recommended police reform measures such as limiting traffic stops, creating civilian police oversight boards to promote accountability, cracking down on officers affiliated with white supremacist groups, and developing a broader department of public safety focused on addressing the inequities that can lead to safety issues in the first place.

“Anything that dismantles the culture, the normality of the devaluing of brown and black bodies, I’m with it,” Fullman said. 

Maria Ponomarenko, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and the co-founder of the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, agreed with Fullman that “something unequivocally needs to change.”

“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet” when it comes to police reform, Ponomarenko said. “The one thing that’s been shown not to work is just passing one little bit of piecemeal legislation. … If you only address one tiny slice of the problem, things are going to look virtually identical to how they did beforehand.”

Ponomarenko has been working on model state-level legislation around use of force, police department transparency, officer decertification, pretext stops, and the overuse of warrants.

Nikki Niles, the program manager of the new Olmsted County Diversity, Equity and Community Outreach Team, shared why she is overseeing a pilot program that matches social workers with police officers on calls involving public health.

“What I was brought on board to do is really make this delineation between public health matters and criminal matters — and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive,” Niles said.

Niles said in most cases where both police officers and social workers respond to a call, the social workers are able to get people the help they need without criminalizing them.

Guests:

  • Maria Ponomarenko is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and the co-founder of the Policing Project, a nonprofit based at the New York University School of Law that works in tandem with policing agencies and community groups to promote more effective police governance.

  • Brian Fullman is the lead organizer of the Barbershop and Black Congregation Cooperative within the nonprofit ISAIAH, a multiracial, statewide, nonpartisan coalition of faith communities fighting for racial and economic justice in Minnesota.   

  • Nikki Niles is the program manager of the new Olmsted County Diversity, Equity and Community Outreach Team. She oversees a pilot program that matches social workers with police on crisis calls involving mental health issues, drug use, homelessness or other emergencies that could be better handled by someone other than a police officer.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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