Falcon Heights puts police reports in council agendas

As Falcon Heights continues to grapple with the police killing of Philando Castile on Larpenteur Avenue during a traffic stop in July, the city has begun publishing police reports with its city council agendas.

The city is also set to swear-in members of its Inclusion and Policing Task Force later this month, another reaction to the death of Castile, a 32-year-old black man, who was shot by a St. Anthony police officer.

The first round of reports, which were included with the city council’s Oct. 26 agenda, were from Oct. 10-16. 

“It’s not like it’s a game changer, but it is a step towards transparency and accountability,” Falcon Heights Mayor Peter Lindstrom said. “Even though it’s a small thing, I think it’s an important thing.”

The reports covered the gamut of what St. Anthony police, who contract to provide service for Falcon Heights, are involved with on a weekly basis. They included domestic assault reports and other incidents, as well as traffic stops.

Out of the 31 reports from that week in mid-October, 25 were about stops. The majority of the stops, 16, resulted in arrests or citations, while the rest ended with written or verbal warnings.

Most of the warnings were for equipment violations — Castile’s girlfriend has said he was stopped for a broken taillight — or moving violations. Those cited and arrested largely were said to be driving with invalid licenses or lacked proof of insurance.

Falcon Heights’ move to publish police reports came a week before a Minnesota Public Radio story looked at citations for equipment violations issued in St. Anthony, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale, which also contracts for service with St. Anthony Village.

Looking at data supplied by the St. Anthony Police Department, MPR found that out of roughly 650 citations issued for equipment violations in the three cities, 44 percent of those who were cited were African-American. 

The story said an average of 7 percent of the people who live in the three small suburbs are African-American.

The race of people stopped, whether cited or warned, is not included in the reports supplied by St. Anthony to Falcon Heights for agendas. 

Lindstrom said St. Anthony is working on including the racial demographics for all stops in the reports it gives to Falcon Heights — it currently only keeps track of that information for those cited — though he declined to say when he expected it to happen.

“That’s sort of the crux of the matter,” he said, when asked how the MPR story factors in. “We always knew we had the data for arrests and citations but not for other sorts of police interactions like being pulled over, and so I’m glad that we will have this data available for us to make informed decisions.”

City Administrator Sack Thongvanh said former Falcon Heights Mayor Tom Baldwin suggested the city publish police reports. Baldwin, who’s been critical of the city’s response to Castile’s death and the St. Anthony Police Department, was mayor from 1986 to 1995.

Thongvanh said he would include police reports with council agendas on a monthly basis.

 

Task force formation

The Falcon Heights City Council interviewed applicants for the city’s Inclusion and Policing Task Force Nov. 2, and Thongvanh said task force members would be sworn in Nov. 9.

The task force’s mission is to come up with recommendations on how policing should work in the city — including things like whether police should conduct investigative stops for things like equipment violations. 

Since the fatal shooting, Falcon Heights has been continually told by some residents and others to end its contract with St. Anthony. It’s currently in its second year of the agreement and could exercise an opt-out clause prior to July 2017.

The task force will be made up of nine people who live or work in Falcon Heights along with council member Randy Gustafson and Lindstrom as non-voting council liaisons. Gustafson’s day job is with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office as its public communication and crime prevention coordinator.

Lindstrom said it was a tough call picking nine task force members out of the 33 people who applied, though in the end, he and the council selected a strong mix of people.

“This is a task force that in many ways looks like Falcon Heights and looks like our region as a whole,” Lindstrom said, adding it will have racial and gender diversity, along with diversity of thought.

“Now is the time that we really need to grind out solutions to these problems,” Lindstrom said, adding later, “I’m confident that with hard work we will bring real solutions that will make our city safer for our residents and all those who are traveling through our city.”

Lindstrom said the first task force meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13. 

The meetings will be facilitated by experts on diversity and community engagement, he said, and the city has turned to the Mitchell Hamline School of Law Dispute Resolution Institute and the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services for input as well.

Though Lindstrom previously said he’d hoped to have preliminary recommendations from the task force before the end of the year, he said that was unlikely after one or two meetings. Still, he said the city was sticking to its deadline of late spring for the task force to wrap up its work and present recommendations.

“We want them to be done by May 1st, if not before,” he said.

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