Any effort to involve the public in public safety policy should be a plus for any law enforcement agency and governing body. So it is at least somewhat disappointing that a recent excellent effort of a local community group to raise issues about local public safety policy and culture was met, in part, with opposition and silence.
A coalition of diversity, civil rights and victim support groups developed a list of suggestions and a report for area law enforcement agencies for creating a more equitable system in light of a troubling culture that came to light in the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis Police.
The Greater Mankato Diversity Council, American Civil Liberties Union of Mankato, NAACP Mankato, B.E.A.M., CADA domestic abuse shelter, the YWCA and the Indivisible St. Peter/Greater Mankato sponsored a series of forums with public input that drove the recommendations of the report.
The overall goal, the group said, was to create a public safety environment that builds trust with communities and promotes racial equality. The group outlined safety, dignity and fairness as broad principles by which to measure policing in the three communities. One cannot argue with those kinds of aims.
The report called for more transparency among police departments, a tracking of police stops and arrests that includes a person’s race, and more interaction between police and affected groups that include people of color, indigenous and Blacks.
The recommendations called for more public participation leading to more influence and oversight of police operations through things like local police civil service commissions.
Other recommendations called for racial climate surveys for departments, transitioning police officers out of schools in lieu of other professionals. It called for more training on racial equity issues for police and the recruitment of more diverse officers and more diverse city workforces.
The report pointed out specifics for St. Peter and North Mankato to hold more public forums with people of color, as Mankato has been doing. These kind of outreach efforts should be bare minimums.
St. Peter and North Mankato public safety leaders showed varying degrees of resistance to the recommendations when interviewed by The Free Press for an in-depth report last Sunday.
St. Peter Police Chief Matt Peters said his department wasn’t invited to participate in the group’s meetings, while group leaders said the department declined. North Mankato Police Chief Ross Gullickson said he believed North Mankato was already focused on many of the recommendations of the group.
Peters called the recommendations generalizations and said it looked like a “special interest” group was looking to undermine the good work of St. Peter Police.
Peters’ response is disappointing. We’re not sure how a domestic abuse agency, a diversity council, the YWCA and others in the group are “special interests.” If they are, they’re needed special interests.
Peters and Gullickson provided written statements to The Free Press in response to the story last week.
None of the agencies, including Mankato, currently track data that would show racial profiling in police stops or arrests. To its credit, Mankato does track arrests by race and uses them for internal purposes, said Public Safety Director Amy Vokal. This kind of data gathering is key to measuring racial equity.
It also shows transparency. We hope the departments take the diverse group’s report more seriously than it appears at first look. Public safety should be about protecting and serving all racial and ethnic groups that make up the public to be served.