BY CAM GORDON
In what is likely a response to the unusually low number of officers in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the recommendation by the mayor’s Community Safety Work Group to “strengthen MPD’s recruitment and hiring process,” the mayor is recommending spending $740,000 on an internship program for high school students.
The new program, called the Minneapolis PEACE Recruitment Plan, would provide part-time employment and a career pathway to law enforcement for high school juniors and seniors. According to the proposed budget, the intent is to attract “young people of diverse backgrounds who are interested in learning more about a career in law enforcement.”
The task force recommendations, released last June, call on the city to “build a community pipeline” by expanding “recruitment for the Explorer Program, a feeder program for cadets” and by “fostering partnerships with K-12 programs, park and recreation programs, youth serving agencies, and the private sector.” It also calls for the city to “create a K-12 public safety career pathways program,” and “partner with Minneapolis Public Schools to initiate planning for such a program.”
During her presentation to the Minneapolis City Council on Sept. 20, interim Chief Amelia Huffman clarified that the program will be aimed at public, alternative and charter high school students. She is hopeful that it will build better relationships with young people and help diversify the workforce, which she said is currently made up of “29% people of color.” Huffman also said that she believes the program “aligns with the broader goal of having more BIPOC young people involved in youth programs.”
Although the proposal appears to have support at city hall, it is not without its critics. These include Emma and Maddie Pederson, sisters who have been enrolled in police recruitment programs. Both have also testified before the City Council about problems with the programs and police oversight, recruitment and accountability. Recently, Emma served on the police chief search committee and applied, but was not appointed, to serve on the now-dormant Police Conduct Oversight Commission. Both sisters participated in the department’s Police Explorer program and Maddie was also enrolled in the Community Service Officer (CSO) program.
Maddie has an open Minnesota Department of Human Rights complaint against the city and the MPD for sex discrimination in their physical fitness examination for police recruits. Emma answered my questions for this story.
“My main concern with this proposed internship program is whether MPD will have adequate oversight over the officers’ interactions with these high school students,” Emma said. “From my experience in MPD’s current youth program, the Explorers, there was virtually no oversight over officers. The minimal oversight raised concerns over how the money dedicated to the program was being spent. It also left kids in the program subject to sexual and racial harassment from officers.
“MPD’s current recruitment programs already have red flags. I do not think adding another one without addressing the current issues will help their situation—especially not a program geared towards high school students,” she added.
Emma Pederson is especially concerned about the program’s intention to recruit young people of diverse backgrounds. “Based upon my experience in the program, youth of color were never pushed forward in the MPD recruitment pipeline. In my opinion, they were discriminated against and had to endure blatant racism or microaggressions. Either kids had to internalize the officers’ racist beliefs or push back against them and then were pushed out of the program,” she said. “MPD has a toxic, racist culture and this internship program will only reinforce the white supremacy of the department.”
Emma cites an Equity in Hiring Audit from 2019 that shows that female and BIPOC recruits are disproportionately weeded out of the hiring process compared to their white male counterparts. The audit found that many of them leave voluntarily during the process and others don’t pass certain parts of it, like the fitness test and background checks. “The current way we recruit and hire is fundamentally flawed,” she said. “Unless the Minneapolis Police Department begins to address its toxic culture and reinvests in its accountability mechanisms, I think high school students will be subject to officer misconduct, harassment, and inappropriate behavior if they entered into this partnership.”
Kaytie Kamphoff, a Northeast Minneapolis resident and teacher at Henry High School, said, “I absolutely have many concerns about Mayor Frey’s proposal to infiltrate our public schools with the Minneapolis Police Department. MPD refuses to hold itself accountable for the violence and trauma it has caused our community, so why on earth would we ask our young people to enter a system so violently out of touch with their lived experiences?
“So many of my students watched Darnella Frazier’s Facebook video live while Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. When Derek was murdering George they saw their fathers, their uncles, their brothers, their grandfathers – the trauma from his murder is very real. It is wild to me that Mayor Frey is asking our Black and Brown youth to engage and then enter a system that has systematically harmed their bodies, minds and souls,” she added.
Kamphoff is worried that city and school district leaders are planning to move this program into the new $90-million-dollar North High School Career and Technical Education Center that broke ground this September with plans to open a year from now.
“I have concerns that he is specifically asking our youth to join the Minneapolis Police Department, a department that is at the root of so much trauma in our city, and most especially over North,” Kamphoff said. “MPD has had 150 years to reform itself, and MPD has done absolutely nothing to change its ways.”
Kamphoff has many questions about the recommendation to “build a community pipeline” for the mayor’s task. “Why are we asking the youth to solve a problem adults created? Why are we asking Black and Brown youth to police their own community in response to problems white people in power created?” she said. “A better ‘community pipeline’ should be rooted in liberation, for example fully funding teacher pathway programs in community high schools with large populations of Black, Latinx, Hmong, Somali and Indigenous students.”
While the mayor and other city leaders are understandably focused on restoring the number of police officers that have recently left the force, there are others who feel addressing the serious problems of racism raised by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights should come first.
Given the efforts the Pederson sisters have made over the last four years to improve MPD recruiting programs following their own bad experiences, Emma Pederson was surprised that this plan came forward. “Mayor Frey’s office is well aware of the issues with the Explorers and CSOs program. We met with members of his office in 2018 to talk about our experiences and concerns over the two programs,” Emma said. “I also recently served on the police chief search committee and shared some of my experiences in Explorers there as well. It is astonishing that Mayor Frey would bring forward this internship proposal knowing the problems and inequities in the current MPD recruitment programs.”