Some campaign observers say the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk by a Minneapolis police officer nearly two weeks ago has pushed the issue of police community relations and restoring trust to the forefront of the mayor's race.
It's not uncommon for mayoral candidates to run on promises of increasing the number of police officers on the force as a way to ensure public safety. At a time when confidence and trust in police are floundering, the topic of public safety has taken on new significance.
Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, or NOC, said that's because public distrust in police has spread to areas which often don't feel sharp police/community tensions.
"The shooting of Justine allows for a whole new group of people who maybe couldn't locate themselves in the story of Jamar Clark or Philando Castile — they just couldn't see how that relates to their daily lives — now you're seeing a whole new tier of people that really get it. They understand the consequences of police misconduct, police violence," Newby said.
Ruszczyk, who was white, lived in a quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood. She called police to report a possible sexual assault. Clark and Castile, who was fatally shot in a suburb of St. Paul, were both African American men. A few days after Ruszczyk's death, one her neighbors, Drew Rosielle, said the incident should serve as a wake-up call.
"Black people are disproportionately the victims of this police violence," Rosielle said. "And I think too many of us white people have accepted that and say it's never going to happen to us. It's happening to those people."
It's not that police reform is never a topic for discussion in a campaign, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs.
"Usually a topic would be property taxes, which are up. And there's virtually no conversation about it."
Jacobs said the shooting death of the Australian native has raised the profile of police use of force among a prominent voting bloc. As more candidates talk about police reforms and policies they're also going to have to weigh in on Mayor Betsy Hodges' choice for chief, Medaria Arradondo, who has a lot of support among African Americans.
"The African-American community is very important in this race. I think we can expect some of the mayoral candidates and perhaps Mayor Hodges coming forward with some kind of commitment to keep him on."
Newby has noticed people from different communities are not only calling for changes in police policies but are pushing for alternatives, such as restorative justice, which focuses on mediation and reconciliation instead of harsh punitive measures.
Candidates: Police should focus on de-escalation, use less lethal methods
As several mayoral candidates compete for the public's attention, they differ on how changes should be made in the police department.
"I don't believe that every cop needs to carry a gun in every situation," said Ray Dehn, who represents part of north Minneapolis in the state House of Representatives. "I think there are times when officers don't need to be carrying guns and part of that is when they're interacting with community members in a way that's really not about responding to dangerous situations but it's about interacting in general."
Candidate and current council member Jacob Frey said it makes more sense to establish and enforce a policy that establishes lethal force can only be used as a last resort.
"You should have to do other things before you say I'm going to take the gun out of the holster and shoot somebody," said Frey. "I don't think that's overreaching. I think it's essential."
Former Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds said if elected mayor, she could work with Arradondo, should he succeed Janee Harteau as chief.
"I think that he's earned the trust of a great number of people who typically do not trust police," said Levy-Pounds. "Because he's willing to listen. He's willing to come out into the community. And he does his best to effect change."
However, Levy-Pounds and others who support Arradondo — who's also known as Rondo — say serious reforms will still be needed in the police department.
"I do think Rondo is a great choice," said Aswar Rahman. He added that the problems in the department go deeper than who is chief. "It's more having to do with police training [and] why there were two [new] officers patrolling in the same squad car."
Officer Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed Ruszczyk, had been on the force for 21 months and his partner Matthew Harrity had about a year's worth of experience.
Al Flowers worked with Arradondo on the Police Community Relations Council more than 10 years ago. The council was tasked by the Justice Department to implement a 2003 federally-mediated agreement designed to address historic tensions. The council disbanded in 2008 after the city declined to renew the agreement.
Flowers, who's now running for mayor, said he wants to see Arradondo continue those talks.
"If he fulfills what's in there, which is some policy stuff and if the union works with him, then he can make some big changes," said Flowers "The city would be in good hands with Arradondo."
Frey and Dehn say they like and respect Arradondo, but they remain open to other options. Tom Hoch is in the same camp.
"I would certainly look at the police chief as the first position I'd want to get a good handle on and evaluate the person to determine whether I believe they have the skills that are necessary to deliver on the outcomes that I'm talking about," said Hoch.
Those outcomes, he said are based on the feelings of city residents measured by quarterly surveys. Hoch said he wants 90 percent of citizens to feel safe and 90 percent to feel confident in their police department.
Next week, the city council's executive committee will take up Hodges' nomination of Arradondo. The city council is expected to hold a public hearing in the coming weeks before taking a vote.