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 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). 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 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 scrutiny on policing and police violence, understanding how citizens, activists, and policy-makers interpret and shape police department practices is of critical importance.

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; Executive Summary prepared in advance of a community forum held at UROC in December 2019 here. Slides from an August 2020 presentation 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 will update this page when they are available to share.

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*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.

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

NBC15 WMTV (Sept 2020) -- Madison’s new Civilian Oversight Board seeks diverse applicants

Associated Press (Aug. 2020) -- GOP Portrayal of Urban Mayhem Doesn’t Always Match Reality

Star Tribune (Aug. 2020) -- Minneapolis police face staffing challenges as violence rises

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

LeMonde (June 2020) -- Mort de George Floyd : à Minneapolis, le démantèlement de la police s’annonce plus compliqué que prévu

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

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

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)

Star Tribune (Dec. 2014) -- Twin Cities Forum Explore Racial Bias, Police Tactics (News Article)

Current Research Team Members

Dr. Michelle S. Phelps

Principal Investigator

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


Past 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