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‘US VS. THEM’: Healing the relationship between law enforcement and citizens

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Rochester protesters

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - Former President Barack Obama called on mayors across the country yesterday to start making changes and wipe out systemic racism.

Today, police departments and city leaders are listening.

Mayor Kim Norton and Captain Jeff Stilwell both say that fixing broken relationships between police officers and the community starts with fixing the problems in their own system.

"Kneeling on someone's neck is not a technique we use or teach in any shape or form," said Stilwell. "Everything about that video, if I was looking at it from the RPD policy lens, would be outside that policy."

Yet negative encounters between the public and authorities still happen, even in the Med City.

"You know there's still experiences that people have that are not pleasant," said Norton. "We have to look at how we can change."

Stilwell says that starts with their own policies.

"Going through our whole policy manual, redoing it," said the captain. "Bringing it up to a 21st century policing standard."

They plan to fix policies with some outside help.

"We have a community committee called the Police Policy Oversight Committee that is in place to do just that," said the mayor.

The police captain thinks changes to training could also be made.

"Dealing with people in crisis or understanding racial disparities in the system and maybe less time on the hard skills, whether that's use of force or firearms training," said Stilwell.

Attempting to reduce deadly force, RPD has already begun crisis management training, as well as evaluate the mental well-being of officers.

"But we don't always do a checkup and work on wellness," Stilwell said. "We've just started that program here."

The mayor is also working with the the police department to form a more inclusive staff. However, new hires does not solve all problems.

"That sometimes means we have to provide mentoring as well. You have to make the environment people work in feel good, welcoming and accepting," Norton said. "Mentorships help that."

Both the mayor and captain understand the need for change, but the police department is just a starting point.

"If you look at the systems in place, they clearly impact people of color differently," said Stilwell.

"I feel like I have a partner to work with on these issues and that feels like we're heading in the right direction," said Norton.

Both also stressed the need of making new policies and training habits in law enforcement so that officers do not resort to old tactics when faced with an emergency.

Captain Stilwell says the police are ready to listen to suggestions for change as they strive to end discrimination against minority communities.

Alex Tejada

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