Police Reform in the Progressive City

Since the eruption of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2014, police brutality, police violence, and police reform have emerged as central public policy concerns. Minneapolis has been at the center of these conversations. While our city is on the national forefront of progressive policing reforms (including body cameras, procedural justice and implicit bias training, diversion programs, and more), the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has also faced steep criticism from activists and residents, especially in the wake of recent high-profile police killings of civilians, including Jamar Clark and Justine Damond (Ruszczyk). Despite the advancement of reform efforts in cities like Minneapolis across the nation to redress these inequalities, scholars know little about the process of reforming the police. How can police rebuild trust with communities of color? What roles do public officials, civil rights watchdog groups, police unions, community organizations, police reform advocates, and everyday citizens play in changing police departments’ policies, cultures, and practices? As cities struggle to adapt to the new media scrutiny on policing, understanding how citizens, activists, and policy-makers interpret and shape police department practices is of critical importance.

The project team (see below) collected from summer of 2017 to summer 2019. We focused on the following types of data:

    1. Interviews with Policing Advocates. These 20+ individuals included city politicians, police leaders, members of the civilian police oversight committees in Minneapolis, journalists, local organizers (e.g. with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Citizens United Against Police Brutality, and NAACP Minneapolis), and advocacy lawyers. Interviews asked about the framing of the problems or challenges in policing, their preferred solutions, and a brief history of their work in policing reform.
    2. Interviews with Northside Residents. North Minneapolis disproportionately experiences both high rates of crime and police contact as compared to the rest of the city. We therefore focused our efforts in North Minneapolis, interviewing more than 120 residents. Interviews covered participants’ attitudes toward police, experiences with police, knowledge of MPD reforms and advocacy groups, and desires for future change.
    3. Ethnographic and Audiovisual Data from Policing Events. We observed 20+ events include meetings of the Governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relationships, various community forums and vigils for the victims of police violence, and the Minnesota Civil Rights Commission’s Hearings on Civil Rights and Police Practice in Minnesota.
    4. Media Stories, Policy Reports, and Interviews on MPD Reforms. Using MPD’s extensive website (which includes press releases, policy manuals, informational videos, and more) and coverage of MPD from local papers and online sources, we compiled a chronological timeline of MPD crises and reforms from former Chief Harteau’s appointment through to the current tenure of Chief Medaria Arradondo.

Together, these data provide a rich and multi-layered perspective on police reform. We are currently at work on a public report and several academic articles from the project, which will be posted here when available.

Current Project Team Members

Amber Joy Powell

Ph.D. Student in Sociology

University of Minnesota

Chris Robertson

Ph.D. Student in Sociology

University of Minnesota

Anneliese Ward

Undergraduate Student

University of Minnesota

Former Project Team Members

Santino Reynolds

UMN B.A. & McNair Scholar

De Andre Beadle

Ph.D. Student in Sociology

AshLee Smith

Ph.D. Student in Public Affairs


Photo by Mark Allen Peterson (328 West Broadway Ave.).