Policing & Police Reform in Minneapolis

Dr. Michelle S. Phelps

Principal Investigator

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 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). Thus, police reform and police legitimacy are pressing concerns in Minneapolis and nation-wide.

In this project, my research team uses Minneapolis as a case study in the process of police reform (or transformation). How can police rebuild trust with communities of color and in low-income communities? What roles do public officials, community organizations, and police reform advocates, like #BlackLivesMatter representatives and others, 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.


We hosted a public forum on the findings from the Northside resident interviews on Tuesday, December 10th, from 5:30-7:30pm at UROC in North Minneapolis.

For more information, please see our Executive Summary or the slides from our presentation.

Data Collection

From 2017-2019, the research team collected the following types of data:

    1. 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 completed over 120 interviews with residents in North Minneapolis. 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. (Preliminary analysis here.)
    2. Interviews with Advocates & Activists. 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.
    3. Ethnographic Observations of Policing Events. The team attended roughly 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. At these events, audio (or video) data were collected by the research team. In addition, extensive field notes were taken for each event.
    4. MPD Reform Efforts. Using MPD’s press releases, policy manuals, and informational videos; media accounts; ethnographic and video data from public policing forums; and informational interviews with MPD leadership, we have put together a timeline of MPD crises and reforms from Chief Janeé Harteau’s appointment in 2012 through to the current tenure of Chief Medaria Arradondo.

We are currently working on several academic publications from the project and a public report on the Northside interviews, which will be available in January 2020.


*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.

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

Press Coverage, Media Interviews, and Blog Posts

Current Research 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