Updated: Aug. 26 | Posted: Aug. 21
The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., over the weekend was the backdrop for an online event MPR News reporter Brandt Williams hosted on Wednesday about the future of policing.
The discussion focused on the conversations many communities are having about what policing should look like following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and how far to go with changes to the system.
Three leaders who bring unique experiences to the debate discussed what role police departments and officers should play in communities — especially where Black and Indigenous people and people of color have been disproportionately impacted — and how governments can provide public safety to residents while dismantling racism.
Booker Hodges, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said broader society needs to look at how social services have been cut over time. Police are responding to issues, including mental health crises, that officers are not equipped to address, he said.
“People have to understand that when you call law enforcement, we bring in the tail of the criminal justice system with us. The question for society needs to be: Do we want to bring the criminal justice system into these different avenues?” Hodges said.
Some activists have called for moving funding from police departments to social service agencies.
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Erin Maye Quade, a former DFL state representative and advocacy director for the group Gender Justice, said public policies such as universal health care is also a key to reductions in crime.
”We can see what the outcome of a full investment in society is. And it is that there is more safety and there’s less of a need for the type of policing that we have now,” she said.
The state Legislature recently considered a number of police reform proposals. One of the proposals would have lifted a ban on cities from requiring officers to live within city limits.
Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd said policies to reform policing should be decided at the local level.
”If you had the flexibility to at least require a local entity make a decision whether or not an officer should live in their own communities, at least give the flexibility for an individual department to make that call,” Judd said.
Hodges said the heated rhetoric — both from those who defend the police and those who are pushing for transformation — can get in the way of actual change.
"I'm a person. I'm a police officer. I'm an African American man. But I am a person,” he said. “I think until we get back to that where we view each other as people — not by an occupation and not by race — that we're going to continue to have these conversations. So, there is an appetite for it."
But Quade said disparities in the state need to be acknowledged, and she said the role of police officers as public servants means they're held to a higher standard.
"Because we built these systems, it means we're the most qualified to rebuild something different that does what we want it to do, and I actually think the people of Minnesota are the people who can do that,” she said.
In Focus: The Future of Policing is part of a series of convenings MPR is committed to leading over the next year to bring awareness, dialogue and potential solutions to Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities — in education, health, economic opportunities and many other areas.
Through conversations with community leaders that are shaped by our curious, engaged audience, MPR hopes to encourage new connections and relationships that will help Minnesota communities make progress toward equity and inclusion.
Consider reading Brandt’s reporting focused on efforts to defund the Minneapolis Police Department and how Minneapolis residents are reacting to the debate. You can also listen back to the interviews MPR News hosts have done in recent months about police unions and reform, community-led public safety efforts, police training and what meaningful police reform would look like.
Also, check out Spotlight on Black Trauma and Policing, a Call to Mind event hosted by MPR’s Angela Davis to amplify Minnesota's Black community in a dialogue about how the killing of George Floyd is a recent, high-profile example of historic racial injustice and ongoing cultural trauma. Learn more about the event and MPR's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health at calltomindnow.org.
Use the audio player above to listen to the discussion.