An in-depth report in last Sunday’s Free Press showed the groundwork for Mankato area police reform efforts with communities of color have been based on solid communication and building relationships. It must go further.
We need more concrete action.
Mankato Public Safety has been at the forefront at many of the efforts, but we hear very little about efforts by other area law enforcement.
Mankato, North Mankato and Mankato Public Schools have established relationships with the refugee community through the Tapestry Project led by the MN Council of Churches, where new residents learn how public safety works. Public safety gathers an appreciation from what refugees have experienced in their often traumatic journeys to their new country. All good.
The Greater Mankato Diversity Council has long worked with Mankato Public Safety on issues of race and education. But most of the efforts seem based around a “willingness to listen” and the city being a “willing partner.”
Police behavior accountability and training in some cases goes lacking, according to activists and others.
Mankato Director of Public Safety Amy Vokal favors improving the system of complaints about officers by putting information online in the interest of transparency. Other activists call for boosting the role of the city’s citizens public safety advisory committee, which, according to the city’s website doesn’t appear to have met since 2019 and there is no list of membership. Its purpose, according to the city website is to “Proactively enable the city to get the community involved in public safety planning, hiring and promotion of a safe and livable community.”
The citizens committee would be a good place to ramp up police behavior accountability and training oversight.
Valerie Hines, vice president of the Mankato NAACP forming committee, called for more sensitivity and inclusion training for officers. Vokal said there is much work to be done on developing trust between police and community workers.
And finally, progress on getting mental health professionals to work with police on crisis calls has been improving. Vokal points to possible grant funding to help get social service professionals and others to respond to calls.
While the spirit of those looking to police reform seem willing, the action now needs to happen.
We recommend re-energizing the public safety citizens committee for reviewing police training and behavior. We recommend the city divert public safety resources — or increase them — to get permanent funding for contracting with social service agencies to respond to calls involving mental health crises and other calls police are not trained to handle.
We’d like to see the relationship-building between diverse groups and police grow to the point that people of color will not feel threatened simply being stopped by police in Mankato and other towns, including North Mankato, St. Peter and surrounding counties.
Activists say they believe momentum is building for public safety reform and the recent deaths of Black men by white police has shown the widespread nature of the problem.
We hope that the momentum builds. It can start by citizens thinking globally about equality but acting locally.