DOJ program changes leave review of St. Anthony uncertain

Published 5:12 pm Saturday, September 16, 2017

ST. ANTHONY — The Justice Department says it is changing a program that helped troubled police departments build community trust, creating uncertainty about the future of a review requested by the St. Anthony Police Department in the wake of the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile.

City Manager Mark Casey said he doesn’t know what the change means, but the city is still committed to making improvements.

The Justice Department announced Friday it will roll back an Obama-era “collaborative reform” program under which departments voluntarily went through wholesale reviews and received non-binding recommendations for improvements in areas such as use-of-force and de-escalating confrontations. Instead, the program will focus on helping cities arrest violent criminals and dismantle gangs.

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Some cities had found the collaborative reform program helped in repairing frayed relationships with communities after racially-charged incidents. But the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions determined it had become adversarial toward police and counter-productive to helping cities drive down violence.

The change takes effect immediately.

Officials from St. Anthony plan to speak with representatives of the Justice Department on Monday to discuss what this means for the city’s review. A Justice Department official said if St. Anthony choses to continue the process, its Community Oriented Policing Services office would help the city transition into the new program.

DOJ officials have already held several listening sessions in St. Anthony and heard citizens’ concerns. Community observers had expected the report to be finished by October.

Kristine Lizdas, a member of St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action, said she had hoped a report would come out before the program was killed.

“The COPS office is sitting on a tremendous amount of information, and it’s heartbreaking to think of the thousands of hours that went in,” she said. “It’s devastating when you think of the amount of time COPS staff, and their contract technical assistance providers, spent in St. Anthony alone.”

The city asked for the review after the shooting of Castile, who was killed in July 2016 by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez after Castile told the officer he was armed. The shooting’s gruesome aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend.

Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter charges in June and no longer works for the police department.