Community Policing

Community Policing

How do we promote the community part of community policing?

All the mayoral candidates say they want to see more community policing. Following are recommendations that I call relationship-based policing.

Recommendation #1


Prior to becoming licensed police officers, students of law enforcement and hiring agencies alike should be assured that the law enforcement  curriculum includes soft skills like conflict resolution, problem solving, domestic violence intervention and  prevention, defusing techniques, and recognizing signs of mental illness.  Read more below.


 Recommendation #2


Continuing (in-service) training credits required of all licensed police officers should also include refresher courses. Even veteran officers need enhanced and ongoing training.   Read more below


Recommendation #3


Prioritize victim and community engagement by assigning individual officers to safeguard a specific neighborhood or geographic area with the expectation that they identify and work with community leaders, know the resources available in their assigned area and then give them regular shifts and the freedom to act. Read more below


 Recommendation #4


Enhance the Civilian Review Board by sharing all reports of officer misconduct and empowering the Board with subpoena power.  Read more below


Recommendation # 5


Promote prevention measures like restorative justice and gang reduction programs.


We need to divert juveniles from the criminal justice system into restorative justice programs and connect them with professionals and resources that they need to change their behavior.  Read more below


Recommendation #6


Explore having police officers carry personal liability insurance to reduce the city's financial burden when misconduct occurs. Read more below


Recommendation #7


Develop a communication strategy to highlight what the police are already doing well—Crisis Intervention Training, the use of mental health professionals and ongoing programs like Safe Summer Nights. Read more below




The St. Paul Police Federation screened only three of ten mayoral candidates.  Whatever your feelings are about the Police Federation, the mayor needs to have a working relationship with the union, while also holding officers accountable for their conduct.  I didn't receive the endorsement, but you have to wonder about the level of trust between the union and the candidates who weren't invited (or who didn't want) to screen.  How are those candidates going to work with the union?   Demonizing people or groups is not part of my leadership style and ethics—we need to bring people together.


I met Chief Todd Axtell in person last winter to discuss what he's doing and trying to do to modernize the SPPD to make it more accountable and reflective of the community.  The universal esteem in which he is held is warranted.  When I met and talked with Big Brothers/Big Sisters at Highland Fest, a representative let me know about the Brothers in Blue program that pairs male police officers with at-risk youth for mentoring.  After I was asked if the SPPD had the program in St. Paul, I learned we didn't.  I offered to connect Big Brothers/Big Sisters with the chief.  In just a few hours from my initial email, the connection was made.


I've been on a ride-along twice (One day and one night shift) in different areas of the city,   I was impressed with the officers ability to de-escalate situations and use active listening to calm people down and resolve tense situations, as well as their attention to detail when investigating shots fired.


Other ride-along perceptions:

    I was concerned that when a Spanish-speaking police officer was requested for a fender bender, it took a relatively long time for one to be found and to arrive at the scene.  This is why we need language workarounds like simple phrases in every language to connect with the public.
    One of the female officers volunteered how impressed she was with a colleague who was able to identify people suffering from mental health issues simply from reading a report identifying certain behaviors.  Those experienced folks should mentor new police officers.


I spoke to a variety of people who helped flesh out realistic solutions to enhance community policing, which resulted in these recommendations and read background literature.  Many mayoral candidates are relying on former President Obama's 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing to build community trust.  While those recommendations are worthy, many of them are general and rely on an assumption that the justice system protects people equally.  (Plus, there was not a single active police woman on the panel.)


People with whom I spoke to develop my recommendations included people involved in Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, police deputies, a former commissioner of the Police Review Board and an international, award-winning police advisor.


Based on research, more women in policing produces positive results. We won't be able to fully change police culture from one of brawn to one based on effective community policing until at least 30% of our sworn officers are women.


While the mayor has no direct influence over the criminal and civil justice system, I completely support probation reforms and other measures that promote racial justice, including reducing Ramsey County's excessive probation periods for relatively minor offenses (12 years vs. 2 years in other counties for some infractions).


I hope this gives you some idea of how comprehensive my approach to community policing is, and how I value attention to detail and inclusion of different points of view.  This may not be perfect, but it's a start.


Best wishes,



Recommendations--Read More Below


    Pre-hire Law Enforcement feeder schools, including skills training


First, recommend that colleges/universities have qualified police leaders on curriculum development committees for law enforcement/criminal justice programs/skills training and/or boards of local colleges.


We want and need our officers to have the best training for the job.  Since less than 2/10 of 1% of police calls require force, most of today's police are called upon to resolve conflicts and to problem solve, along with occasionally using force to effect compliance or arrest.  We need officer competency to include...


    Recognition of mental health issues in others,
    De-escalation using active listening techniques and persuasion,
    Knowledge of community resources like domestic violence shelters to make referrals to victims/witnesses, and
    Recognition and management of personal stress so it doesn't spill over into the job.


The St. Paul Police Department is paying for an entire class to go through a local college's criminal justice program with the assumption that those students will be recruited into the St. Paul Police when they graduate.  The class is 55% people of color, which is great news for diversifying the SPPD.  However, if you look at the curriculum, there aren't as many courses as you might think that directly address community concerns about de-escalation, cultural competency, communication, etc. Let's make sure they're there, in the quality and quantity needed.


    In-service training for police officers


It's not just new recruits who need training on de-escalation and communication techniques, including recognizing & responding to mental illness, preventing and responding to domestic violence, etc. There is a need for ongoing training to brush up and update skills. As one off-duty state police officer told me, "These [skills] are at least as important as weapons training."


To ensure the best training, we should provide opportunities for community members to review current curriculum philosophies on de-escalation, communication, implicit/explicit bias, cultural competency, and prevention and response to domestic violence, for example.  Then we need to solicit the communities input to improve courses or develop new courses.


I have attended many community meetings (Cordale Handey, Philando Castile, community policing).  One of the main concerns was summed up by a young woman of color at the High School for Recording Arts who asked the chief "How do we know you're doing what you say you're doing?" The chief said he tries to be transparent.  But what I heard the community really asking is "How can we be involved in something that touches our lives at the core?"  I hear a hunger everywhere for community members to be part of the solution.  Let's make the community part of community policing by involving them in the development of police curriculum, especially in the areas they know best—their own communities!



    Victim Engagement and Community Engagement


The city could develop a citywide resource list of community organizations and leaders for common calls officers make (domestic violence programs/shelters, restorative justice programs, substance abuse treatment facilities, organizations that serve and promote people of color, organizations to help trafficked victims, etc.) for all officers, they could make their own contacts with those organizations so they can refer victims to tangible assistance.  Develop a checklist for every officer so they're clear about expectations.  Engage with victims about their current capacity to fill out forms (victims are often in crisis) and either help victims fill out forms or make a call to advocates who can assist them.  


Challenge officers to...


    Develop individual relationships with leaders of the local organizations in their assigned area through regular coffee (or other informal) meetings.  
    Work with community leaders to prioritize problems.
    Meet one new neighbor every shift.  This could be accomplished by using one coffee break to mingle with the community.  


In collaboration with different ethnic communities...


    Develop a written phonetic list of commonly used phrases in the main languages of St. Paul for all officers to say.
    Have officers carry written information in different languages they can hand out.  For example, victim's rights information, domestic violence rights and resources, other community resources based on individual cases, including that St. Paul is a sanctuary city (Police/INS separation ordinance) to reassure people they won't be asked about their immigration status if they call for police assistance.


Develop an anonymous feedback form with postage paid envelopes given out after every interaction (along with victim rights card) so officers get direct evaluation from the public.


Include victim/community engagement on performance reviews and as criteria required to apply to key assignments, promotions, or specialized conferences or training based on the officer's level and quality of victim/community engagement.  This information could be collected through survey results, community reports, on line comment complaints/kudos, and supervisor performance reviews.  


4.   The Civilian Review Board


The Civilian Review Board could be enhanced by...


    Sharing all complaints against officers with the board.  Only then can Board members see a history of an officer's conduct and act as a supplementary early warning tool to the chief to identify and seek help for officers who are straying.
    Give the board subpoena power to talk to victims and witnesses.

    Require all board members to do a ride-along with police, especially at night or during active hours so they have an improved understanding of the experience of officers.

Re-instate a police officer on the board under the following conditions:

     The Civilian Review Board could be enhanced by...


    Sharing all complaints against officers with the board.  Only then can Board members see a history of an officer's conduct and act as a supplementary early warning tool to the chief to identify and seek help for officers who are straying.  
        Give the board subpoena power to talk to victims and witnesses.

    Require all board members to do a ride-along with police, especially at night or during active hours so they have an improved understanding of the experience of officers.

        Re-instate a police officer on the board under the following conditions:  

            Chief nominates at least 3 people, with a historical record of ethical, objective  behavior and actions
            Board interviews them separately
            Board chooses which officer is appointed to the Board Finally,
            Officer doesn't wear his/her uniform to meetings (which can intimidate)
            Officer's job is to educate, inform, gather data or information as needed
            Officer is ex-officio member without a vote.

As many of you know, the police position on the civilian review board was removed by the city council because of legitimate fears about how the police might overly influence decisions and water down the Board's watchdog ability.  I totally understand that research tends to show that groups will often go along with whomever they perceive to have expert knowledge or power.


On the other hand, we would never convene a civilian review board for doctors and criticize surgical techniques without having a representative from the medical profession.  Under the conditions I've listed, which put the power in the Board's hands, I believe we can both bring a policing context back to the board without sacrificing truth, accountability and the necessary public voice into complaints against police.


    Promote prevention measures like restorative justice and gang reduction programs.


If we support and invest in the community ambassadors program and existing programs in place which target emerging gang members with one-on-one contact, we can help reduce gang violence and safeguard the futures of a generation of youth.   We can do this by listening to first time offenders—what do they say they need to stay out of the gang? Then we need to establish the resources to connect those youth to those resources: education, a safe place to relocate to, etc. These young citizens are our future and it should be important to all of us to ensure their successful growth to productive citizens.


We can invest in programs similar to the ones in Houston and Boston that have effectively reduced gun violence by 63% and in Stockton, CA by 42%.  These programs focus on the small number of people who perpetrate gun violence by harnessing the leadership and experience of the people who live in and understand these communities to do community level interventions that are supported by the police.


    Personal Liability Insurance for Officers

While I am not absolutely persuaded, I would be willing to study the impact of requiring police officers to carry personal liability insurance to determine whether or not it meets the stated objective of its supporters.  This is the same kind of insurance required by many professions including doctors, nurses, beauticians and plumbers—none of who work under the conditions of police officers. Proponents of this state that the City would pay the base rate of the insurance, but any premium increases due to misconduct would come out of the pocket of the officer that caused the increase. On the one hand proponents say it protects the City's bottom line and ensure that officers who continue to engage in misconduct could eventually be priced out of the market or will become uninsurable and no longer able to work for the City.  

Opponents state that it would not be a deterrent to police misconduct (it assumes the threat of punishment deters behavior and I'm not sure any studies suggest that really happens, particularly in lightning fast decisions).


    Communication Strategy

Virtually everyone agrees we have an outstanding chief of police in Todd Axtell and that he has surrounded himself with very ethical and community minded deputies.  But based on all the door knocking I've done around the city, very few people know about all the community-oriented outreach the police do.  


We need a communication strategy that meets people where they are, not where we are.  And notwithstanding social media, the best and most effective communication still happens one-on-one, through community dialogues and through community newspapers.  As mayor, I would lead the effort to make sure all the good-faith efforts the police are making are recognized, that the successes are celebrated publicly while the misconduct is addressed fairly and transparently.


If you want further information, check out:

Elizabeth Dickinson for Mayor

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