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Monday, May 4, 2015

Policing Today


The world of policing is going through the roughest time in decades, but the profession will evolve, improve and be better than before. It seems so far this year there have been weekly police incidents nationally that capture our attention. It is tough to see the good work every day drowned out by stories of misconduct.

In the aftermath of recent highly visible police incidents, President Obama convened a task force to examine the state of policing and make recommendations to improve police-community relations. The recommendations were released in a report last month. As one of our lieutenants pointed out after reading the report, the Duluth Police Department already does a lot of what is recommended. This week, I will summarize the first pillar of the task force's recommendations and what we're doing in Duluth.



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The first focus area of the task force recommendations involve "building trust and legitimacy." Police need to incorporate into their daily activity the tenets of procedural justice, which is defined in the report as "treating people with dignity and respect, giving individuals a voice during encounters, being neutral and transparent in decision-making and conveying trustworthy motives." As I've written here before, we do a lot of work on relationship-building and transparency that no one ever knows about.

In January, I sat down with a group of African-American community leaders who were concerned we were ticketing too many kids of color and creating a "school-to-prison pipeline." We reviewed cases involving tickets issued in schools. A synopsis of each case was presented without names or identifying information. Together, we reviewed every case into December of the school year.

We issue a disproportionate number of tickets to African-American youth and I want to do everything we can to ensure understanding, fairness and transparency. In this meeting the community leaders led me to believe they were in agreement with the majority of the outcomes. My charge to our officers who work in schools is to coach, guide, mentor and use discretion to keep youth out of the criminal justice system to the fullest extent possible.

An obvious area addressed in the report revolves around police use of force. Excessive use of force can undermine the public's trust and officers must be restrained to the extent possible. We need to focus not just on a legal justification, but a moral justification as well. While I don't ever want to see our officers get hurt by using ill-considered tactics, police actions must meet with public acceptance.

We just sent several officers and other community leaders to be trained as trainers — thanks St. Luke's Foundation for their financial support — in crisis intervention. This is one of the more effective programs that trains officers how to work with the mentally ill or people in crisis and to de-escalate situations. We need to continue to focus on talking through tense situations and gaining voluntary cooperation whenever possible.

A group of 20 officers went through this training several years ago and have struggled how to train more staff. With certified trainers now on staff, we hope to have all of our patrol officers trained over the next 12 months.

In Duluth we have focused on the community guardian concept: open dialog, building relationships, creating positive contacts, approachability and community policing. As Plato wrote, "In a republic that honors the core of democracy, the greatest amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy."

Additionally, the report recommends placing department policies online for accessibility, something Duluth police did some time ago. Internal and external surveys are recommended to gauge community trust and needs. We have used surveys extensively. The most recent citizen survey, administered by the International City and County Managers Association from 2014, found 93 percent of the respondents rated contact with Duluth police as excellent, good or fair.