Program aims to boost police-community ties but some doubt it will work

Leaders of a national initiative to promote dialogue after police killings of African-Americans stirred outrage stopped in Minneapolis this week. It was the last stop in a series of meetings across the country.

In March, Minneapolis was one of six cities chosen for the $4.75 million program, the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, in response to the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer.

Department of Justice officials are working with researchers from Yale University, UCLA and John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study implicit bias, how law enforcement interactions affect crime rates and racial reconciliation.

They held a public forum at the Minneapolis American Indian Center Tuesday night and plan to meet with the Minneapolis City Council Wednesday.

Phillip Goff, a social psychology associate professor at UCLA, said the project is not a police-led initiative.

"This is an initiative that is based in evidence, based in science with the goal of repairing and improving police-community relations," he said. "The goal is not to be doing something from just the policing side."

The three-year program aims to use social psychology research to explore the underlying issues that could lead to police misconduct.

Mark Kappelhoff, deputy assistant to the U.S. attorney general, said police are joining in the conversation over conduct.

"There has really never been, that I have seen, a time in our country where policing, police reform and community trust has been at the forefront of this conversation that our nation now is having," Kappelhoff said. "The community feels in many ways that the criminal justice system is biased."

Some in the diverse audience of about 35 people criticized the timing of the meeting and said it didn't give working families the opportunity to engage.

Attendees included the group Communities United Against Police Brutality, who said they don't trust that the program will solve police and community relations.

"The problem is about police conduct," said CUAPB's President Michelle Gross, "I don't want to see that somebody gets beat up while the police smiles. That's not the right idea of procedural justice."

Members of the Justice Department's initiative plan to return to Minnesota in the fall to hold additional public forums and update the public on the process.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.