Federal review of St. Anthony police in question after DOJ announces changes


The U.S. Department of Justice has made “significant changes” to one of its programs. It’s a move that could directly affect St. Anthony Village.

In question is what the changes mean to the DOJ’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services — known as COPS — which has been conducting an in-depth audit of the St. Anthony Police Department. The city requested the review after Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights last year. 

The two-year review, called the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance, is meant to provide law enforcement agencies with training, policy and procedure recommendations to help build trust between police and the communities they serve. 

Seeing a need for the partnership after Castile’s death drew local and national spotlights, as well as protests and packed council chambers, St. Anthony became the smallest department to work with COPS. 

There are more than a dozen other agencies with Collaborative Reform reviews underway nationwide, but the future of those reviews is now unclear.

In a Sept. 15 announcement, the DOJ said it made the changes  — “effective immediately” — to “better align the program with the principles outlined by the attorney general in support of local law enforcement.”

However, even city officials are uncertain exactly what those changes are. According to St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey, the DOJ has yet to provide more details.

“Still waiting for clarification,” he said. “We’ll know more once they get back to us.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Changes to this program will fulfill my commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime.”

Sessions called it a “course correction” to see to it that resources “go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support.”

In January of this year, COPS kicked off its review of the St. Anthony Police Department by holding listening sessions in St. Anthony as well as in Falcon Heights and Lauderdale — both cities contract for police services from the department. All three sessions drew crowds.

During the Jan. 10 listening session in St. Anthony, the auditorium at St. Anthony Village High School was filled with residents and activists. People lined up to share their experiences with the St. Anthony Village Police Department, and their ideas for change, as a team from COPS listened to what they had to say. 

While most spoke out against racial profiling and other injustices perceived in the local police department, at least one man spoke in support of the department. The elderly man recieved audible “boos” in response.

Kelly Ibekwe, at the time a 17-year-old senior at St. Anthony Village High School, spoke out against individuals in the crowd booing at the man’s supportive remarks, saying the polarization “is not helping.”

“One of the main problems is this idea that it’s us against them,” said Ibekwe, who is African-American. “Whoever it was who was booing: I hear you, I understand you, and I’m completely against you,” she said. “You are not helping us; you are perpetuating the problem.” 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815



 

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