Racial disparities in Minnesota’s criminal justice system with a focus on new solutions

By Samuel Lee Reid II, Assistant Director – Civilian Review Authority

By now, you may have heard that, unfortunately, Minnesota has a long way to go to reduce the disparities between the whites and minorities. Minnesota’s racial disparities have been the subject of several reports over the years. The Council of Crime and Justice have released several reports that highlight the disparities (found here: Council on Crime and Justice Research Reports). A recent report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Reducing Racial Employment Disparities indicated that the Twin Cities area has the largest minority hiring gap among the nation’s major metro areas.

Recently, I attended the 2011 Minnesota Justice Forum at the University of Minnesota Law School. The event was provided by the Council of Crime and Justice in partnership with Minnesota Judicial Council’s Committee for Equality and Justice and the Institute on Race and Poverty. The focus of the Forum was racial disparities in Minnesota’s criminal justice system, with a focus on new research and new solutions.

A very good argument for the use of racial impact statements when the state is considering criminal statutes was made by Professor Kevin Reitz of the University of Minnesota Law School. The thought behind racial impact statements is that statutes have unintended consequences that could be identified and addressed before a law is adopted. Those unintended consequences often have adverse impacts on different racial groups. According to Professor Reitz, because the Model Penal Code (MPC) has already included racial impact statements, the state legislature could easily take the next steps to include this in the state’s criminal code. The use of racial impact statements should also be explored as a standard step of municipal decision-making.

Another highlight of the forum was Brooklyn Park’s Chief of Police Michael Davis’ comments during the Stakeholder Input Panel session. The Brooklyn Park Police Department’s jurisdiction covers one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in Minnesota. During his comments about community policing and the responsibilities of the police and the community, Chief Davis highlighted a very interesting and promising practice of requiring his officers to become involved in the various Brooklyn Park communities, outside of their enforcement capacity. This is very promising because it will allow the citizens to interact with the officers in ways that does not involve an emotionally stressing event, displays of power, or jail. It would be beneficial for many individuals if more police agencies considered this practice.

On December 2, 2011, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights will hold a mini-conference discussing disparities and solutions. The conference will end with A Call to Action, challenging the attendees to continue to work to close the gap.

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