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.
The research team collected the following types of data:
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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)
Access Minnesota (July 2016) -- Racial Bias in Policing (Radio Interview)
Dr. Michelle S. Phelps