Policing The Progressive City

Since the eruption of the Black Lives Matter 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 was on the national forefront of progressive policing reforms (including body cameras, procedural justice and implicit bias trainings, diversion programs, and more), the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) also faces steep criticism from activists and residents alike, especially in the wake of recent high-profile police killings of civilians, including Jamar Clark and Justine Damond (Ruszczyk). In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by several now-former MPD officers, bringing Minneapolis to the center of a national and international protest movement to #DefundPolice.

In this project, my research team uses Minneapolis as a case study in the process of police reform (or transformation). How do activists, residents, and city leaders diagnose the problem in policing -- and its potential solutions? As citizens and cities grapple with the trauma of racialized police violence, understanding the role all of us play in shaping police and policing is of critical importance. Below, I describe our data collection efforts as well as the reports, articles, and book from the project.

Data Collection

The research team collected the following types of data:

    1. Northside Residents. North Minneapolis disproportionately experiences both high rates of crime and police contact as compared to the rest of the city. We completed over 120 interviews with residents in North Minneapolis in 2017-2019. Lasting from 30-90 minutes, these interviews start with a short survey (which uses standard measures of attitudes toward the police) and continue with an open-ended qualitative interview about participants’ attitudes toward police, experiences with police, knowledge of MPD reforms, attitudes towards police reform/transformation/abolition groups, and desires for future change.

Read our final report on these interviews, Over-Policed and Under-Protected: Public Safety in North Minneapolis, at the digital edition of CURA Reporter.*

    1. Activists & Advocacy Groups. I conducted 25 open-ended qualitative interviews with individuals leading police reform efforts. These individuals include city politicians, individuals with formal roles in police oversight, journalists, local organizers (e.g. with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Communities United Against Police Brutality, and NAACP Minneapolis), and advocacy lawyers. Interviews lasted from 1-2.5 hours and provide narrative data on the person’s framing of the problems or challenges in policing, preferred solutions, and work in police reform. In addition, through social media and protests or other events, we have traced activists' groups evolving demands for justice and their reception in city hall.

    1. Ethnographic Observations of Policing Events. The team attended 30+ public events related to policing, including meetings of the Governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relationships, community forums and vigils for the victims of police violence, and Minneapolis City Council meetings.

    1. Minneapolis Police Department. Using MPD’s press releases, policy manuals, and informational videos; media accounts; ethnographic and video data from public policing forums; and historical archives, we document the long a timeline of MPD crises and reforms, from the start of the department through to the current tenure of Chief Medaria Arradondo.

Read my summary of the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd and the movement to end policing in Minneapolis on Scatterplot: Dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department.

We are currently working on several academic publications from the project, including:

Powell, Amber Joy and Michelle Phelps. “Gendered Racial Vulnerability: How Women Confront Crime and Criminalization.” Conditional Acceptance at Law & Society Review.

Phelps, Michelle S., Christopher E. Robertson, and Amber Joy Powell. “‘We're still dying quicker than we can effect change’: #BlackLivesMatter and the Limits of 21st Century Policing Reform.”

Phelps, Michelle S. and Anneliese Ward. “From Police Reform to Police Abolition: How Minneapolis Activists Fought to Make Black Lives Matter.”

I will update this page when working papers are available to share. In addition, I'm working on a book project from the project (details forthcoming).


We would like to thank our project funders, which provided support for the students on the project: University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship program; Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (Faculty Interactive Research Program); Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center; University of Minnesota Beverly and Richard Fink Summer Fellowship Program; Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, University of Minnesota; and Sociology Department, University of Minnesota.


*Other materials from this report are also available online. Preliminary analysis on Scatterplot here; Executive Summary prepared in advance of a community forum held at UROC in December 2019 here. Slides from an August 2020 presentation here. Interview guide here.)

Photo credit for the banner image: Adam Bettcher/Reuters.

Media: Press Coverage, Interviews, Public Talks, and Op-Eds

Research Team Members (Past & Present)

CNN (April 2021) -- Minnesota's Twin Cities Are Once Again the National Flashpoint over Race and Policing

WaPo (April 2021) -- As Derek Chauvin’s Former Bosses Line Up To Condemn Him, ‘Policing in America is On Trial’

WaPo (April 2021) -- The Chauvin Trial Addressed Extreme Violence. But Most Police Abuse is Routine.

CNN (April 2020) -- Minneapolis Police Face Scrutiny After High-Profile Killings

Star Tribune (March 2021) -- Chauvin Case Draws Inevitable Comparisons to Another High-Profile Police Murder Trial (Reprinted for FRONTLINE)

Kare 11 (Dec. 2020) -- University of Minnesota Study Surveys North Minneapolis Residents' Feelings About MPD

Minnesota Reformer (Dec. 2020) -- Black America is Over-Policed and Under-Protected

Breaking Free: Creating Transformative Change in Policing for Minneapolis.” What’s Next? Roundtables, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota. Dec. 3, 2020.

MN Daily (Dec. 2020) -- University Researchers Recommend Policing Changes Beyond Reform in North Minneapolis

CQ Researcher (Oct. 2020) -- Police Under Scrutiny - Can Law Enforcement Restore Public Trust?

University of Chicago (July 2020) -- Reimagining/Reinventing Police Conference

Star Tribune (July 2020) -- Reform, Defund, or Abolish - What's The Future of Police in Minneapolis?

MN Daily (July 2020) -- What does changing the Minneapolis city charter mean for public safety?

Star Tribune (June 2020) -- Killing of George Floyd shows that years of police reform fall far short

WaPo (June 2020) -- Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people

WaPo (May 2020) -- Minneapolis struggled with police violence and adopted reforms. ‘And yet, George Floyd is still dead.

Dialogue Minnesota (June 2020) -- What Does "Dismantling" the Police Really Mean?

MinnPost (June 2020) -- Dismantling the police, reimagining public safety

Scatterplot (June 2020) -- Dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department

CBS This Morning (June 2020) -- Minneapolis' Policing Problems

Almanac (June 2020) -- The Intersection of Public Safety and Public Health

Law & Society Association (May 2020) -- Cry the Beloved Country

North News (Jan. 2020) -- University Study on Policing Leads to Questions about How the Community is Researched

Scatterplot (Nov 2019) -- Legal Estrangement and Police Reform in Minneapolis (Blog Post)

WCCO (Oct. 2019) -- Good Question: How Many Police Officers Should A City Have? (TV Interview)

Star Tribune (Aug. 2018) -- Release of Blevins Video Exposes Divide Between Police, Communities of Color (News Article)

MinnPost (Aug. 2018) -- Many Questions, Few Answers, As Minneapolis Council Takes Up Proposal To Change Police Oversight (News Article)

Kare 11 (July 2018) -- No Charges Against Mpls. Officers in Blevins Shooting (TV Interview)

Yes! Magazine (March 2017) -- Defunding Police: How Antiracist Organizers Got Seattle to Listen (News Article)

MinnPost (Dec. 2016) -- Minneapolis is Hiring More Police Officers. Here's Why Some Advocates Argue That Won't Make the City Any Safer (News Article)

Chicago Reporter (Aug. 2016) -- Police Liability Insurance Measure Goes to Court in Minneapolis (News Article)

FiveThirtyEight (July 2016) -- Why Are So Many Black Americans Killed By Police? (News Article)

Access Minnesota (July 2016) -- Racial Bias in Policing (Radio Interview)

Dr. Michelle S. Phelps

Principal Investigator

Anneliese Ward

Undergraduate Student

AshLee Smith

Ph.D. Student

Amber Joy Powell

Ph.D. Student

Santino Reynolds

UMN B.A. & McNair Scholar

De Andre Beadle

Ph.D. Student

Chris Robertson

Ph.D. Student