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Feds to review Minneapolis response to shooting protests

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Tension at the Fourth Precinct
At the Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis, tensions escalated Nov. 19 as police admitted a protester into the precinct who needed medical attention. The Department of Justice will review how the city responded to demonstrations after Jamar Clark was fatally shot.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP 2015

Updated: 11:55 a.m. | Posted: 6:35 a.m.

A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) office will review the Minneapolis Police Department's response to protests late last year following the police killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. 

Clark was shot by an officer and later died after police say he scuffled with officers in north Minneapolis on Nov. 15. His killing sparked protests in Minneapolis, including an 18-day occupation of the area in front of the police department's Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis. 

The DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office will conduct a "comprehensive, independent, after-action assessment" on those 18 days of protests, Deputy Director Robert Chapman said during a press conference on Thursday.

The assessment will examine the events through a community-based policing approach, Chapman said. 

"By better and more thoroughly understanding both the effective and inadequate tactics and strategies and any unintended consequences resulting from both police and protester actions, the underlying issues that ultimately impact trust between law enforcement and the community can begin to be addressed," Chapman said.  

Chapman said the assessment could include hundreds of interviews with police officers, protesters and other community members. He said there is no timeline, but he hopes it will be released by fall. 

The COPS office has previously conducted after-action assessments of police departments in cities like San Diego and of the police response to protests in Ferguson, Mo (.pdf). In the Ferguson case, the final report made 113 recommendations for changes to the city's police department. 

"Based on those recommendations, the departments involved in the responses have made improvements to how they managed and responded to those protests," Chapman said. "We've seen some of those changes play out in subsequent protests in that region." 

Mayor Betsy Hodges and Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau requested that the office conduct the assessment last month. Hodges said that the assessment's focus on engagement with residents was part of its appeal. 

Hodges said the occupation was a challenging time for the city, as officials tried to strike a balance between allowing people's right to protest and preserving public safety.  

"Making sure that for Minneapolis, we get insight into what was done well and, more important, where we could have done better, is important for the community, for the department, for the city enterprise as a whole and for the residents of Minneapolis," Hodges said. "We need the lessons learned moving forward." 

Harteau said she's proud of the department's reaction during the protests, but that it's important to rebuild trust with the community. 

"In order for us to provide public safety to the level we can, we need to have public trust," Harteau said. "My hope is that this will provide some validation to both our officers and the community."

Harteau said they requested the assessment partly to examine whether the department's policies should be changed. She said the recent decision to change the department's SWAT uniforms was based on input received during the protests. 

Black Lives Matter protesters and civil rights activists were critical of the city's response to the protests. NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said protesters were tear gassed, pepper sprayed and hit with rubber bullets during the occupation. 

Levy-Pounds said she hopes that the review will be honest and thorough. 

"I'm cautiously optimistic that the truth will come forward about what happened during the occupation," Levy-Pounds said. "But at the same time it's going to take much more than a report to overhaul the Minneapolis Police Department because they have such a long history of engaging in excessive force against African-American residents of north Minneapolis."  

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.