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New 4th Precinct commander seeks to ease long-simmering tensions

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Lt. Kelvin Pulphus, the new inspector in north Minneapolis' 4th Precinct.
Lt. Kelvin Pulphus is the new inspector in north Minneapolis' 4th Precinct.
David Peterlinz via KARE-TV

Listening from the back of a crowded conference room inside the 4th Precinct on Tuesday night, Lt. Kelvin Pulphus — a 27-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department — seemed to take it all in.

"I think the first thing we need to do is acknowledge the traumatic behavior that we've caused sometimes in the community and move forward from there," he said.

Residents of north Minneapolis were invited to a public meet-and-greet with the new inspector. Several of them said they want to hear less gunfire in their neighborhoods this summer. Everyone said they want to build trust between community members and police officers.

Trust hasn't always been easy to find here. 

Over the last several years, three fatal police shootings of African-American men and subsequent protests happened in the precinct. In 2015, demonstrators surrounded the police station for nearly three weeks following the police killing of Jamar Clark. And in 2018, Thurman Blevins and Travis Jordan were shot to death by 4th Precinct officers.  

The previous commander of the station was removed last year after officers there decorated a precinct Christmas tree with racist items.

Pulphus, who is African-American, has what it takes to bridge any divide between residents of north Minneapolis and the 4th Precinct, said K.G. Wilson, who has spent 16 years as a peace activist in Minneapolis.

"I'm excited about introducing him to the people who don't know who is, and to let them know in the community that this man has a heart for change and peace just like I do and he's somebody that they will be able to reach out and touch," Wilson said.

Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Pulphus played football at Minnesota State University, Mankato before becoming a police officer. From there, he spent almost three decades serving in several departments and precincts. Most recently, he served as head of the procedural justice unit.

He said he knows his new role could be his most challenging yet.  Officers in the precinct routinely respond to more calls for service than in any other part of the city.

But mostly there's that history of racial tension between cops and parts of the community.

Wilson says it's hard to move past that.

"It can be devastating and heartbreaking," he said. "But I believe that in 2019 the people are going to see in this particular inspector a lot of love and compassion."

Pulphus said getting officers and residents to talk each other like they did during the meet-and-greet is a good first step. He wants to hold more listening sessions.

"Something we can all come to and address the community needs and talk about it and have an understanding and be together and work on things together, that's one of the main things I want to do here," he said.

Pulphus was appointed by Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo, and comes to his new post with the full support of City Council members who represent parts of the 4th Precinct.