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A page from the Wilder Foundation’s scorecard created during a study of the Brooklyn Park Police Department.

After months of research, The Wilder Foundation unveiled its study on the Brooklyn Park Police Department and root causes of violence July 12.

The more-than 100-page study, titled “Brooklyn Park: Improving Safety and Policing,” makes three large-picture recommendations for the city: prevent violence before it occurs, improve violence interventions, and to regularly assess the Brooklyn Park Police Department for improvements based on the scorecard developed by the nonprofit’s researchers.

“During a time when violent crime has been rising around the country and in our region, this timely report provides a thorough research-based foundation to better understand and address the root causes and conditions that result in a lack of safety in the community,” said Jay Stroebel, city manager.

“The Brooklyn Park City Council and city staff are committed to work together with the community to create the conditions for safety to thrive in all corners of our city and continue our ongoing work to provide the best public safety services for all our residents.”

The council took no action on the report, and is expected to continue discussing the findings at a July 19 work session.

Background

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, the Brooklyn Park City Council charged the Human Rights Commission and the Police Department’s Multicultural Advisory Committee with developing a work plan to bring recommendations for police reform back to the council.

During that process, the city decided to contract with Wilder Research to analyze the Police Department using research-based standards for criminal justice reform. The researchers were asked to develop a data-based scorecard for the city’s Police Department. The researchers were also asked to analyze systemic inequities and their impact on law enforcement, and to conduct an analysis of root causes of violence in the community.

Violent crime increased substantially in the city, with 2020 bringing an 11% increase in the violent crime rate, according to the Police Department. As of June of this year, violent crime was up another 2% compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, calls for police reform have grown ever louder following the officer-involved killing of Daunte Wright in neighboring Brooklyn Center this April.

For the report, researchers reviewed existing scholarly research on public and community safety and policing, analyzed existing community data for root causes and interviewed more than 50 city employees and residents.

Root causes of violence

Generally, safe communities are communities where people have what they need, said Lindsay Turner, of Wilder Research. That is, risks for violence increase when people are not economically secure and not connected to their communities, she said.

Root causes can tie back to family trauma and lack of support, health care insufficiencies, lack of neighborhood cohesion, lack of positive youth development opportunities, economic inequality and educational insufficiencies.

According to the report, likely root causes of violence are more prevalent in the southern portion of the community than in the northern portion.

“Risk conditions appear to be unequally concentrated so that residents on the south side of the city and Black, Indigenous, and people of color residents experience relative disadvantage,” the report reads.

“It is important to note that systemic racism contributes to these disparities, largely driving conditions and outcomes that are more positive for white people and conditions and outcomes that are more negative for people of color,” the report continues.

“For example, community data show that rates of home ownership vary across race and place in Brooklyn Park. Relevant to home ownership disparities is the unconstitutional practice of redlining, which was common for generations. Redlining allowed white people access to and excluded BIPOC people from higher-value homes and neighborhoods with more amenities. This practice, while no longer legal today, has generational ripple effects. It allowed for accumulation of wealth by White people and unfair exclusion from wealth for BIPOC people.”

Addressing violence

To address violence within Brooklyn Park, Wilder recommends that the city consider implementing violence intervention tactics such as restorative justice.

“Restorative justice interventions involve community-based workers working with the person who caused harm, as well as the person or people harmed,” the report reads.

“Where survivors of harm consent, workers build relationships with the parties involved and impacted, with the ultimate goal of the responsible party understanding the impact of their behavior, and co-creating a plan to ensure accountability and repair harm. Evidence shows that restorative interventions, even in instances of serious violence and physical injury, are effective mechanisms to promote accountability and reduce the risk of future harm by the responsible party.

Wilder also recommends the city consider focused deterrence initiatives.

“Focused deterrence ‘involves the identification of specific offenders and offending groups, the mobilization of a diverse group of law enforcement, social services, and community stakeholders, the framing of a response using both sanctions and rewards, and direct, repeated communication with the individuals and groups in order to stop their violent behavior,’” the report reads. citing the works of Thomas Abt, who writes about criminal justice. “Studies have shown that focused deterrence is related to reduced community violence and homicides.”

Similarly, the report recommends a reduced reliance on policing in favor of behavioral health interventions and school-based interventions.

Police and crime

Wilder reviewed existing literature on policing and best practices, and reviewed the internal policies of the Brooklyn Park Police Department to analyze the existing state of affairs.

Turner said there is a “robust consensus” that police activity and crime rates move independently.

“We do not and cannot arrest or incarcerate our way to safety,” the report reads.

“In sum, research indicates that increasing the number of BPPD officers or improving BPPD’s performance along traditional measures may be unrelated to, or not the most efficient way, to promote the goal of improving safety in Brooklyn Park,” the report reads.

Best practices for police officers

The report identifies five best practices to consider for evaluation and implementation in the Police Department.

They include an outright ban or a restriction on consent-based searches, the use of de-escaltion tactics, officer identification requirements, overall procedural justice and the use of police union contracts or other laws that support accountability for police misconduct.

Consent-based searches occur when police officers ask for permission to search a person or their belongings. According to the report, people are frequently unaware of their ability to refuse these searches.

“Research shows the anti-BIPOC impacts of these types of searches, as officers are more likely to request a search of BIPOC people than white people, but are less likely to find contraband or evidence of criminal behavior when they do searches,” the report reads.

“Even so, officers execute enough searches against BIPOC people that it contributes to anti-BIPOC arrest and prosecution disparities for low-level, non-violent offenses such as marijuana possession.”

Procedural justice is defined in the report as “processes where individuals feel like they are treated with dignity and respect, like they had an opportunity to say what was important to them during interactions, where people in power are neutral and transparent in decision-making, and people in power display trustworthy motives.”

Wilder identified procedural justice as a potential strength for the Brooklyn Park Police Department.

De-escaltion tactics are mandated for use whenever possible and appropriate for Brooklyn Park police officers in existing Police Department policy.

The report states that many police contracts or laws related to police misconduct “include restrictions on oversight and discipline, erasing or obscuring misconduct records, and others.”

Minnesota state law, however, limits officer accountability, Turner said. Officers are less likely to engage in the use of force if they are required to identify themselves, according to the report.

Brooklyn Park’s officers are not mandated to identify themselves when arriving at a scene, unless that information is specifically requested.

Scorecard

Wilder assembled a scorecard for the Police Department as part of the study.

The scorecard is divided into 10 goal areas: law enforcement policies, training and education, transparency, community oversight, commitment to standards, officer wellness and safety, community policing, data-driven management, quality services, and safety.

“The Scorecard should be completed together as a team of community members, city employees, and representatives from the Brooklyn Park Police Department, the Brooklyn Park Human Rights Commission, and the Brooklyn Park Multicultural Advisory Committee,” the report states.

“At least two people should score each goal (one representing the community and one representing the city/law enforcement).”

Each goal area has a list of indicators for each group to score and discuss.

Council responses

Councilmember Wynfred Russell questioned why Wilder’s researchers did not attempt to interview a representative sample of the city’s population.

Julie Atella, researcher with Wilder, said that the point of the study was not to measure opinions of a representative sample of the population, and, given the funding and scope of the study, researchers primarily relied on existing Brooklyn Park studies and data to conduct the study.

Councilmember Susan Pha spoke favorably of the study, saying she liked that the scorecard has measurable indicators for police performance. She said she agreed that prevention and intervention are important, as is investment in righting root cause issues.

“I did not expect that you’re going to go out there and interview thousands of people,” Pha said. “There are specific things that we did want to see come out of this research and I think that you’ve met all of that. From the beginning I’ve always said that we need to fund more money towards this work, but that didn’t happen, so with the amount of money that we did fund, I think you guys did an excellent job. … I think that this is just the start.”

Councilmember Terry Parks offered the loudest pushback on the study. “I have a real concern of non-police telling police officers what their job is,” he said. “I don’t want to sit up here and have this body micro-manage our Police Department.”

Councilmember Lisa Jacobson questioned what impact the distribution of the city’s affordable housing may have on the study. Many issues related to root cause cannot be impacted by the council, she said.

Residents “expect that the police will enforce the laws that we have on the books,” and “the offenders of those laws need to be held accountable, and so that is my struggle today as we look to this further work,” Jacobson said.

The study is missing considerations of the city’s significant investments in youth recreation programs, said Mayor Pro Tem Tonja West-Hafner.

Other cities and the county likely need to be involved in funding and implementation of in crime prevention programs, she said.

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