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 policing and public safety is of critical importance.
You can find my team's public writing from this project at:
Frey Lied, Amir Died: Connecting Community and Police Violence (Scatterplot)
Why Voters Rejected Plans to Replace the Minneapolis Police Department (The Conversation)
Confronting Crime and Criminalization: Race, Gender and Policing in Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell (Gender Policy Report)
One Year Later: Policing, Violence, and Public Safety in Minneapolis (Scatterplot)
Dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department (Scatterplot)
Over-Policed and Under-Protected: Public Safety in North Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell and Christopher Robertson (CURA Reporter)
Legal Estrangement and Police Reform in Minneapolis with Amber Joy Powell and Christopher Robertson (Scatterplot + reprinted at The Society Pages)
Our academic work can be found at:
Michelle S. Phelps, Christopher Robertson, and Amber Joy Powell. 2021. "We're still dying quicker than we can effect change": #BlackLivesMatter and the Limits of 21st Century Policing Reform (American Journal of Sociology)
Michelle S. Phelps, Anneliese Ward, and Dwjuan Frazier. 2021. From Police Reform to Police Abolition? How Minneapolis Activists Fought to Make Black Lives Matter (Mobilization)
Amber Joy Powell and Michelle S. Phelps. 2021. Gendered Racial Vulnerability: How Women Confront Crime and Criminalization (Law & Society Review)
Please email for free PDFs if the articles are paywalled (email@example.com).
I'm also working on a book project from the project, tentatively entitled The Minneapolis Reckoning: Race, Violence, and the Politics of Policing in America, under contract with Princeton University Press. To see an early version of the book-in-progress, check out this recorded talk at Harvard Kennedy School.
Over several years, my team (introduced below) conducted several different studies to understand policing, police violence, and police reform, transformation, and abolition work in Minneapolis. The 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. We also trace activists' organizing efforts from 2017-2021.
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.
*Interview guide available here.
Media: Press Coverage, Interviews, Public Talks, and Op-Eds
Research Team Members (Past & Present)
The Toronto Star (Feb 2023) -- After George Floyd
Minnesota Now (Sept. 2022) -- Democrats are Divided as House Passes Bill Package to Fund Police
Racket (Sept. 2022) -- When RaShall Brackney Tried to Reform the Charlottesville Police Department, Cops Fought Back. Would Minneapolis Be Different?
Time Magazine (May 2022) -- Two Years After George Floyd's Murder, Minneapolis Is Still Struggling to Redefine Policing
Independent (March 2022) -- From George Floyd to Amir Locke, have Minneapolis Police Learned Nothing?
USA Today (Nov. 2021) -- Police Reform Efforts Continue Despite “No” Vote
NPR All Things Considered (Nov. 2021) -- Why Voters Rejected Plans to Replace the Minneapolis Police Department
Star Tribune (Sept. 2021) -- Minnesota Poll: Most Minneapolis Voters Want Reform, Not Fewer Cops (reprinted in PBS/Frontline)
WCCO with Chad Hartman (Sept. 2021) -- Dr. Michelle Phelps on Minneapolis Policing
New Yorker (July 2021) -- Derek Chauvin's Trial and George Floyd's City
New Republic (May 2021) -- The Justice Department Is Getting Back Into the Business of Police Oversight. Will It Matter?
Star Tribune (May 2021) -- A Year After George Floyd’s Death, Seeking a New Direction for Policing (reprinted in PBS/Frontline)
MPR News with Angela Davis (May 2021) -- Police and Traffic Stops: When Should Officers Pull Drivers Over?
The TakeAway (April 2021) -- What's Next for the Minneapolis Police Department?
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 2021) -- 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
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
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)
Scatterplot (July 2016) -- “Yes, There is Racial Bias in Police Shootings” (Blog Post)
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.