Like law enforcement agencies around the country, the Minneapolis Police Department is trying to increase the number of officers of color on its force. The department is not as racially diverse as the city’s population and officials hope changing that will improve both community relations and policing.
Some black Minneapolis residents like Latrece Dobbins, who recently attended a local demonstration in response to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., say that like there, police/community relations in her city are also sometimes tense.
“The police in Minneapolis, I feel like they are just rude, to people of color anyway. We do get treated very differently. I think it’s unfair because no matter what race you are, you still have rights as a person,” Dobbins says.
She says the way African-Americans are treated by police here might be different if more officers looked like her.
About 18 percent of this city’s population is African-American but only about 9 percent of the force is black. Police officials say one of the barriers to recruiting is a historic mistrust existing between some black residents and the cops, a relationship soured by several recent high-profile incidents.
Last summer, two white off-duty officers on vacation in Green Bay, Wis., got into a shouting match and brief scuffle with a group of black men. Green Bay police officers who responded to the incident say the two Minneapolis cops used the n-word several times.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau fired those Minneapolis officers. Earlier this summer, she spoke about how the incident reinforced negative stereotypes some have of her department.
“So the assumption is every officer is like those two, [that] every officer believes the way they do, that they use racial slurs and that’s not true,” she says. “So it’s frustrating when you have two officers that are unprofessional and inappropriate who get all the media attention and all of the good things that are done in this city barely get any coverage.”
Harteau was not available for this story, but her spokesman John Elder says increasing officer diversity is a top priority. He says Harteau, who is part Native American, often delivers that message when she makes public recruiting pitches to members of various communities of color.
“I’ve been on a great number of citizen visits with Chief Harteau, and she’s pushing it to church groups, she’s pushing it to citizen groups, community groups. And it’s, ‘Come work for Minneapolis Police Department. It’s a great place to be.’ ”
The department hired its first Somali officers about a decade ago. One of those men, Mohamed Abdullahi, recently took part in an ATF hostage negotiation training session. ATF Special Agent Christian Hoffman sees Abdullahi’s background as an asset for the city.
“He was able to instruct ATF agents and his local police department on the culture of the Somalians, how to deal with them, because every culture is different,” Hoffman says.
The department has an opportunity to increase its diversity after a wave of early retirements this year. Minneapolis police say their department expects to put nearly 50 new officers on the streets this fall and another 20 to 30 early next year. Many here are hoping here this time those officers will be more representative of the growing racial and ethnic diversity of the city.