Minneapolis plans to accelerate police-community training

Minneapolis leaders announced plans Wednesday to speed the pace of police training under a federal effort launched months before the police shooting death of Jamar Clark.

The program, called The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, is designed to strengthen ties between the Minneapolis police department and communities of color. The three-year, nearly $5 million program includes racial bias training for officers, an emphasis on community reconciliation and nationwide data collection of vital police statistics.

Police officials say the training has already started. Members of the initiative have met with several groups of community members, though some aren't convinced the program is properly structured.

"I still fear this is coming at the problem backwards," said civil rights advocate Dave Bicking. "It's right in the name — National Initiative for Trust and Justice. Justice has to come first."

Bicking said he hopes the initiative is successful but that justice must include appropriate punishment for officers who violate department policies, especially those who commit acts of brutality. Bicking, a former member of the city's Civilian Review Authority, said officers named in civilian complaints hardly ever receive discipline.

Bicking was one of several people who came to City Hall on Wednesday to offer their views on the initiative. They included people who've participated in recent protests over the police shooting death of Clark in north Minneapolis.

Michael Powell, who's African-American and was born and raised in north Minneapolis, told council members that police often treated him like a criminal even though he hadn't done anything wrong.

"Basically, I was traumatized and always felt like something was wrong with me until I grew up and matured and understood that it wasn't always me," he said.

Police officials say the experiences of people like Powell are at the heart of efforts to improve relations with people of color. The city was chosen to participate in the initiative, in part, because of programs the department had already started, including an effort to equip officers with body cameras, Mayor Betsy Hodges said.

Police Chief Janee Harteau has said she's tried hard to make the force more reflective of the communities it serves and believes the department is making strides in making that a reality. The department, she noted, now has more than 20 percent people of color and people of color make up more than two-thirds of the latest pool of potential officers.

Hodges later announced her support for a budget amendment that will fund training for police officers in two years instead of three. In a written statement, Hodges said the amendment is an acknowledgement that, in light of the protests following the Clark shooting, the city can do more to speed the healing process.

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