Without accountability, trust is impossible.
Picture it: A police department that dedicates itself to trust-building reforms. They partner with the best thought leaders in the country.
They train all sworn officers in procedural justice. Procedural justice is the way police interact with the public, and how those interactions shape the public’s views of the police. All recruits receive the same training. They created a full-time Procedural Justice Unit. They weave procedural justice throughout the department’s training efforts.
They train all officers on implicit bias. Implicit bias creates automatic association and stereotypes with groups of people. Implicit bias can have a strong influence on policing.
They engage in reconciliation work. The police department holds on-the-ground listening sessions between the Police Chief and influential leaders from the community. They hire Community Navigators to liaise between marginalized communities and the police department.
All of this might seem like the perfect formula for police-community trust-building.
Yet, this happened in Minneapolis, MN, the site of the murder of George Floyd.
How We Got Here
In 2014, the US Department of Justice launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice (National Initiative). The National Initiative was led by John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s National Network for Safe Communities. They partnered with the Center for Policing Equity, Yale Law School, and the Urban Institute.
The initiative was piloted in six cities, including Minneapolis. The effort included officer training, departmental policy changes, and community engagement. It was designed to address deep historical roots of distrust of the police among marginalized communities. The intended outcome was to repair and strengthen police-community relationships.
Procedural Justice Curriculum
The first component, procedural justice, was developed by The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School and the Chicago Police Department. The curriculum was modified by the National Initiative and the Minneapolis Police Department to address Minneapolis’s unique history and police practices. Research indicates that procedural justice can increase the public’s willingness to obey and cooperate with the police.
Procedural justice intended to lead to stronger police-community relationships, increased safety, and reduced crime.
Implicit Bias Training
Implicit biases are attitudes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions unconsciously. They cause us to have feelings and beliefs about other people based on characteristics such as age, appearance, ethnicity, gender, or race. Implicit biases are activated involuntarily, without awareness or intentional control. One can imagine the impact that implicit biases can have on police-community relationships.
Implicit bias training ensures that law enforcement is aware of the implicit biases Americans hold and how they form. The curriculum explores how implicit biases are likely to jeopardize good judgment and safety.
For the National Initiative, implicit bias training was developed by the Center for Policing Equity. Minneapolis police trainers worked with the National Initiative’s staff to adapt the curriculum. Minneapolis was the first National Initiative site to implement this type of training.
The intended result was to modify police training, policy, and practice to mitigate the negative impact of implicit bias.
Reconciliation, or “Collective Healing,” as it is known in the Minneapolis Police Department, opens communication between community members and the police. It allows both parties to acknowledge past and present grievances.
Minneapolis was the first pilot site to begin on-the-ground reconciliation work in June 2016. Former Chief Janee Harteau conducted listening sessions with influential leaders from a variety of communities: Black, Latino, Native American, Somali, and LGBTQIA communities. The work continued under Chief Medaria Arradondo.
These sessions began with MPD representatives acknowledging historical harm on behalf of the department. These listening sessions allowed for mutual narrative-sharing.
The intention was to build trust and develop a police community-partnership. This partnership could collaboratively identify problems and develop solutions to pressing issues of public safety, policy, and practice.
Based on feedback from the community and lessons learned from the training, the Minneapolis Police Department implemented several policy changes:
- Amended use-of-force policy to prioritize sanctity of life for both officers and civilians (July 2016)
- Added policy requiring officers to intervene in incidents in which other officers use excessive force (July 2016)
- Began tracking race and gender on traffic stops and other stops (September 2016)
- Changed body-worn camera policy to require officers to turn on cameras as soon as they begin responding to 911 calls (July 2017)
- Began reporting officer use-of-force, complaint, stop, crime, and arrest statistics online (2017)
- Updated the policy to state that failure by an officer to comply with a lawful investigation of misconduct shall be deemed an act of misconduct (September 2018)
- Added transgender/gender-nonconforming policy (June 2016)
It Wasn’t Enough
After all of this, on May 25, 2020, Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes.
Considering all that was done, how did this catastrophic failure of public safety and trust occur?
That’s the question that Jesse Jannetta wrestled with in the first days of June. Jesse works for the Urban Institute. He had been on the ground in Minneapolis measuring results before, during, and after the National Initiative. He surveyed hundreds of community residences in heavily policed neighborhoods.
On June 4, Jesse published a blog post, It Wasn’t Enough: The Limits of Police-Community Trust-Building Reform in Minneapolis.
“When we were surveying in the communities,” Jesse told me, “there were a lot of areas where trust and confidence in the police were pretty low. It stood out how few people believed or agreed that police departments held their officers for misconduct in the community. What Officer Chauvin did, touched right down on that. The trust-building work needed to have a stronger component of accountability.
“If you have a situation in which there’s not a strong ability to hold officers accountable and correct and stop the wrong behavior…you’re never going to maintain any improvements in trust.”
He points out that, even after all the work of the National Initiative, only 24% of residents agreed with the statement:
“The police department holds officers accountable for wrong or inappropriate conduct in the community.”
Jesse says, “Union contracts often have many provisions that make it difficult to discipline or dismiss officers for wrong conduct. I’ve heard for years Chiefs of Police talking about how difficult it is to fire officers for misconduct. And, something you see frequently is, officers who may be fired end up getting reinstated.”
He also points to qualified immunity, “the Supreme Court doctrine that can make it essentially impossible to hold officers liable for conduct unless there’s already a precedent.
“The law gives officers an extremely strong benefit of the doubt when they use lethal force.
“So, there’s this entire policy and legal architecture that creates that situation where communities aren’t wrong. A lot of police departments aren’t doing a great job of holding officers accountable for when they commit misconduct.”
He also points out that committees have a sense that police priorities don’t align with community priorities. Only 28% of shoes surveyed agreed with the statement:
“The police department prioritizes problems most important to your community.”
“What you hear communities say here,” Jesse explains, “is a lot of what the police focus on, and a lot of what they’re doing is not what we think matters. Some people have characterized this as the question of over-policing and under-policing.
“You have a lot of neighborhoods where there are high levels of crime and violence. Murders often go unsolved, and yet people are getting pulled over for every broken taillight. There’s very intense enforcement because there’s a lot of police presence.
“Community members talk about this. They say, ‘We get minimal protection. They’re not out there solving deadly violence. And yet, we’re getting maximum hassle. You get pulled over. You get tickets. You get warrants, fees, and fines.”
Jesse points out that a better question would have been:
“Do the investments made in communities by local, state, and federal governments in the name of safety and well-being, align with what communities value?”
But that question was never asked.
“Who is doing safety and public protection, making investments in doing that, that don’t involve people in uniforms who are carrying guns?”
Jesse points to New York City and their violence interrupters. “They have this fascinating intervention called NeighborhoodStat. A lot of that is about design; it’s about lighting, it’s about all kinds of things that don’t involve the police.
“Part of what people are saying is when you have armed police officers going into situations of all kinds, that creates risk. Perhaps by having folks with different skill sets, and don’t carry that additional risk of harm – having that be a much bigger part of your safety provision plan – from a government side, you can do a lot better.”
“One way or the other, we’re going to have to create something new,” Jesse says. “Reconciliation, when we hear that word, it’s the idea of going back to something or restoring something that was lost. One of the things that people said is, ‘We’ve never had the right relationships with policing in this country. Never.’
“Even if you wanted to reform policing from within and turn it into something that has the right relationships, with many communities in the United States, we haven’t seen that. That’s still going to be an act of inventing something that doesn’t exist.
“It’s amazing to me how people around the country are talking about defunding the police or moving money out of that. Where are your budget hearings? Whether it’s your county board or city council, this is being actively discussed. There’s an exciting opportunity to get involved in that.”
Race Equity and Police-Community Trust
“When I first came out to Minneapolis,” Jesse remembers, “people consistently would say, is just how much disparity there was across the board in Minneapolis. Whether it was about financial attainment, high school graduation, racial segregation, racial disparity is a defining feature of Minneapolis.
“That’s an essential part of the reality that underlies these conversations about policing. So many conversations we have, whether it’s about dense residential development…or when you’re talking about drawing school district boundaries, these are the ways that wealthier, whiter communities maintain these informal but powerful forms of structural racism.
“I would encourage people who are thinking about these things, that these issues are all intertwined.”
Learn More about Jesse Jannetta and Urban Institute:
- Jesse Jannetta on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JesseJannetta
- Urban Institute: https://urban.org/
- Jesse Jannetta’s blog post: It Wasn’t Enough: The Limits of Police-Community Trust-Building in Minneapolis: https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/it-wasnt-enough-limits-police-community-trust-building-reform-minneapolis
- The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice Key Process and Outcome Evaluation Findings: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/100704/national_initiative_for_building_community_trust_and_justice_6.pdf