Improving police, minority relations begins with this wish list, advocates say

Published 9:23 am Tuesday, July 12, 2016

By Frederick Melo

St. Paul Pioneer Press

When it comes to improving police relations with minorities, activist Trahern Crews can rattle a wish-list off the top of his head.

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Crews wants police officers to carry individual liability insurance, which might force them to think twice about using excessive force on a suspect.

And he wants departments to diversify their hiring; mental health experts should accompany police when a 911 call points to a suspect having a psychiatric crisis.

His list goes on.

Those and other recommendations are gaining heightened public attention following the death of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school worker who was pulled over Wednesday night in Falcon Heights and shot at least three times by a St. Anthony police officer.

Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, maintains he was reaching for his ID when he was killed and had explained to the officer that he had a permit to carry a gun, which was holstered. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is handling the investigation.

From Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, to everyday community residents, thoughts on improving police ties to communities of color run the gamut.

Advocates say the same county prosecutors who work closely with local police departments to determine charges for everyday suspects are being called upon to present evidence against officers suspected of misconduct and brutality to grand juries. They say that’s a conflict of interest.

Others say police are being asked to do too much and need more help. That could include more options for treating the mentally ill. Others call for more training in de-escalation tactics and “implicit biases,” or hidden prejudices.

Following a high-profile officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., researchers noted that police and court systems in the area were heavily funded by traffic citations, creating high incentive for officers in the predominantly-white Ferguson police department to pull over and cite drivers in the predominantly-black city.

St. Paul Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turner said his organization plans to release its own police-and-court reform platform before the end of the week.

Crews, a former St. Paul City Council candidate, works closely with St. Paul Black Lives Matter through what he calls an affiliate group, Black St. Paul.

Here’s a list of recommendations from social media, community advocates and protesters.

Liability insurance

When residents sue big city police departments for alleged misconduct, injury or brutality, it’s usually the city itself that settles the claim. The individual officer and police department pay nothing. Crews said it’s time for officers and departments to carry their own liability insurance, instead of having cities like St. Paul self-insure. Knowing that insurance premiums will rise, he said, could make police more accountable and think twice about using unnecessary force.

In Minneapolis, the Committee for Professional Policing has set up an informational website — — and urged the city to require officers to carry their own insurance.

During protests this week outside the governor’s mansion, some observers quietly noted that having the police carry individual liability insurance could backfire. Officers who feel more beholden to their insurance carrier than to their police chief or department might act like contractors, more worried about insurance rates than following orders.

More mental health responders

In September 2015, emergency dispatchers received a 911 call indicating that a possibly suicidal man was pacing in his back yard, threatening to hurt his girlfriend and wielding a screwdriver.

A St. Paul police officer arrived on the scene and fatally shot Philip Quinn when he approached.

Witnesses said he had lunged at the officer, but they questioned whether police could have done more to subdue him without killing him, especially since dispatch was alerted in advance that Quinn was having some form of mental health crisis.