The Coon Rapids Police Department is forming Anoka County’s second multicultural advisory committee.
The group will have about 15 members and serve as a means to facilitate discussion between community members of diverse backgrounds and the Police Department.
The committee, commonly referred to as MAC, is the first created in the county since Columbia Heights formed its group in 2016. Many neighboring communities in Ramsey and Hennepin counties have established similar committees.
Coon Rapids police Capt. John Stahnke modeled the city’s MAC after Maplewood’s, he said.
“I just saw that their city is somewhat similar to ours,” Stahnke said. “I liked their model, and their police chief is a friend of mine, so he was very helpful with sending his lieutenants over to ... kind of steer us in getting our program up and running.”
The goal of the city’s MAC, Stahnke said, is to facilitate open information sharing between the Police Department and communities in Coon Rapids.
The conversations aren’t meant to be one way. Police will not be lecturing the community about what they do and who they are, Stahnke said. He hopes committee members come ready to talk about heavy topics and to exchange thoughts and feelings.
Those heavy topics may be ones that are difficult to speak about, like police brutality and use of force, according to Stahnke.
“We’re well aware of that,” he said. “We know our committee members are going to want to talk about these subjects, and we are more than willing to do so.”
The department received a “very strong” applicant pool, but Stahnke said he’ll accept only 15 people, which will make the selection process a challenge.
“I really feel that the people who have applied do genuinely care about the community and the Police Department and want to make a difference, and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.
Columbia Heights’ MAC has 14 members, and Sgt. Justin Pletcher has led the group since its inception in 2016.
Now, the representatives are like family to him, he said.
“We’re very close,” Pletcher said.
The committee not only humanizes police officers but also helps officers confront their own biases, too, he said.
“As humans, we all have biases,” he said. “And the mere ability to communicate with people outside of your circle, the bigger your circle gets, your biases are really challenged, and eventually disappear.”
Columbia Heights formed the group when Pletcher realized there were areas of the city that the Police Department had hardly any contact with.
“A successful Police Department is an extension of its community,” Pletcher said. “We cannot be a separate faction. We must work in partnership if we’re going to succeed, and the MAC provides exactly that.”
Since then, the MAC has facilitated community dialogue on domestic violence, human trafficking and residency, among other topics.
Now members of the group are involved in yearly strategic planning and the hiring process for new officers, Pletcher said.
“I think every department should have a MAC that accurately reflects your community,” he said.
The Coon Rapids Police Department invited a representative from Alexandra House, Coon Rapids High School and Anoka-Ramsey Community College to participate in the MAC. Stahnke felt those organizations each represent a diverse group of people and the representatives would be an asset to the committee.
At monthly meetings, the MAC will have experts attend to discuss various topics, Stahnke said.
Ultimately, Stahnke wants the committee to help the department and Coon Rapids’ diverse communities thrive together.
“We just want the committee members to have an investment in Coon Rapids,” he said.