Mpls. Police Use 'National Night Out' to Rebuild Trust

Updated: 08/07/2013 10:25 AM By: Mark Albert

In what the chief of police called an "unprecedented effort," 180 police officers - more than in past years - fanned out to 1,450 National Night Out events in Minneapolis, asking residents how they can help "build public trust" in the wake of a damaging scandal surrounding five officers accused of using racial slurs in two separate incidents.

"I think it's really important that before I come up with strategies, I hear from the people that are directly involved," Chief Janee Harteau told reporters at a National Night Out event Tuesday in Heritage Park in North Minneapolis, referring to residents citywide.

"We really need their help in our efforts of public safety," Harteau said.

The one-night sweep was labor intensive. Eighty-two teams of officers were each given more than a dozen events to go to and to ask specific questions of residents, such as "What can we do to help build public trust?," and "What can the community do to help?"

The outreach appeared to be part of a offensive the Chief launched within the past few days to regain the upper hand in the department's response to the recent incidents, both of which had portions caught on dash camera videos and released publicly.

The chair of the city council's public safety committee has called on two of the officers, Shawn Powell and Brian Thole, to resign before an Internal Affairs investigation into their actions is complete. Both are accused of using the "N-word" several times to refer to a group of black men they got into an off-duty altercation with outside a Green Bay bar in June, an expletive when referring to their openly gay chief's sexual orientation, and disparaging the police officers who responded to the scene.

At a National Night Out event Tuesday in the Kingfield neighborhood, snow cones and forgiveness were on the menu.

"I don't like what I've heard (the officers have) done," cautioned Mary Williams, but added her trust in the department was not shaken.

"No. None, whatsoever," Williams said, "because I know there's good and bad in all people."

Edward Jefferson thought the expanded police presence at this year's events is "a great idea."

"I mean, anything that can be done to build trust," he said, "I mean it can only help us. I think it's a good idea."

Another way the police department is looking to improve ties with the community is with a Citizens Advisory Council. The first meeting since the Green Bay and Apple Valley incidents became public will be held Wednesday afternoon.

While it was created before the videos of the alleged racial slurs, there’s now increased pressure on the council in the wake of the scandals. The meeting is closed door, despite the department listing “transparency” as one of its values less than two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, community activists will be gathering at the steps of Minneapolis City Hall at noon Wednesday. From pastors to the group “Communities United Against Police Brutality,” they will all speak out about restoring public trust and the recent allegations of officer misconduct.