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, I use 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 my team's data collection efforts as well as the reports, articles, and book forthcoming from the project.
Over several years, we conducted several different studies to understand policing, police violence, and police reform, transformation, and abolition work in Minneapolis. Our data include:
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 and continue with an open-ended qualitative interview about participants’ attitudes toward police, experiences with police, knowledge of MPD reforms, attitudes towards police reform, and desires for future change.*
Activists & Advocacy Groups. I conducted 25 open-ended qualitative interviews with individuals leading police reform efforts. These individuals include politicians, police oversight, journalists, local organizers (e.g. with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Black Visions Collective, 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 and their work toward solutions.
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, city council meetings, community forums, and vigils for the victims of police violence. In addition, we map public protests, activists' demands for change, and their reception in city hall.
Minneapolis Police Department. Using MPD’s press releases, media accounts, 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.
Drawing on these data, our team has published a series of public commentaries, reports, and academic articles, including:
Dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department (Scatterplot)
Gendered Racial Vulnerability: How Women Confront Crime and Criminalization (Law & Society Review)
‘We're still dying quicker than we can effect change’: #BlackLivesMatter and the Limits of 21st Century Policing Reform. (Conditional Acceptance at American Journal of Sociology.)
From Police Reform to Police Abolition? How Minneapolis Activists Fought to Make Black Lives Matter. (R&R)
I will update the links as papers are available to share (but feel free to email for working drafts, free PDFs, and/or pre-prints). In addition, I'm working on a book project from the project.
*Interview guide available here.
Media: Press Coverage, Interviews, Public Talks, and Op-Eds
Research Team Members (Past & Present)
Access Minnesota (July 2016) -- Racial Bias in Policing (Radio Interview)
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.