St. Anthony PD still learning what the community wants, and what to do about it

The shots that killed Philando Castile, fired by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights, now two summers ago, have echoed around the country and world, adding to the political and emotional fallout of a nation grappling with police killings.

In the immediate aftermath of Castile’s death during a routine traffic stop July 6, 2016, residents at community meetings expressed distrust in city officials and law enforcement and decried a lack of positive community engagement. Some called for St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth to resign. The Department of Justice began reviewing the St. Anthony Police Department, and the department itself began collaborative efforts to reform. 

As the summer of 2018 comes on in earnest, Mangseth is still police chief and the collaborative reform effort was gutted by the federal government.

But Mangseth has vowed to continue the department’s involvement in collaborate reform, and to do better, saying as much during an open house in February. The department released a traffic report last month with details of every traffic stop in its contract cities of St. Anthony and Lauderdale, for 2017. 

Because of the Castile shooting, St. Anthony ended its police contract with Falcon Heights at the end of 2017. No data from Falcon Heights traffic stops in 2017 were in the report, because, according to Mangseth, the report was forward-looking.  

 

Questions

In an interview, Mangseth said that, though it’s been nearly two years, he does not know what the community wants from the police department.

“I wish I had an idea. Other than traffic data we’ve already produced, I don’t know exactly where the community rests,” he said. “Part of my commitment is to figure things out.”

Mangseth said he is not trying to talk in circles, just that the department doesn’t know right now. He said the department is still in the infancy steps of it’s new, post-Castile operations. 

The department, itself shaken by the shooting, always had the trust of the community before the shooting, said Mangseth. Even after, Mangseth said the department received support from the community through cards, letters, and emails. 

But, after the shooting, suddenly and justifiably, people began pressing the police, Mangseth said, and questions about the department started swirling — the kind of questions people didn’t really have or talk about before. Now, residents want to be shown, through analytics, how the department arrives at decisions.

Mangseth said he, his captain and a couple of patrol officers got together and decided on something won’t cut it anymore. “We can’t just sit in silos and make decisions.”

Now, Mangseth said decisions must be backed by records analysis and consultation with other agencies and organizations like the fire department, engineering firms and the school district — all of which can provide insight on the effectiveness of certain policing approaches. 

 

Handling data

The most significant requests, said Mangseth, have been for traffic data. The report from last month includes information on why people were stopped, the race of the driver and the result of the stop. The report noted St. Anthony police are now required to take a full report for every traffic stop. As of late May, Mangseth said he has yet to hear feedback on the traffic report from residents. 

During the question-and-answer portion and at the end of the collaborative reform open house in February, Mangseth said residents asked about traffic and other data being available on the city website and making response forms, such as for making a complaint against an officer or to request a translator, easier to find and access on the website. 

The police complaint form has been made easier to find, but as for other website improvements or using the site to release traffic and other data, Mangseth said the department and city are waiting on an overhaul of the city website by Kansas-based government website design company CivicPlus.

The goal, said Mangseth, is to get traffic information on the website after its revamped. In getting information ready, including for the traffic report, Mangseth said the department “quickly realized” its records system was great for importing data but “lousy” for exporting that data into readable reports. The department is looking to purchase software to establish a system for readily and concisely extracting information. 

 

‘We don’t know what we don’t know’

Prior to the Castile shooting, Mangseth said the department was able to run a report on the number of burglaries or thefts, or crash data, but it didn’t really go beyond that. “We’re trying to be more purposeful now,” said Mangseth, in both how data is categorized and how it is being taken out for reports. 

Once the records system and website are squared away, the department is considering posting information on the website in graphs, like the traffic report, that may even be updated in real time, said Mangseth. He added, other than traffic, he does not know what other kinds of data the community wants, or the best way to release data on other things like burglaries or drug arrests. 

Another option would be to have a day of the week on which the reports are updated. This would require the records manager to complete weekly reports, said Mangseth, and, because the data set will be much smaller than cities as big as Minneapolis or St. Paul, St. Anthony data is not likely to move much in any direction week by week. 

As well as figuring out exactly what the community wants, Mangseth said the department has to find a way to disseminate data in a way that won’t tax the department of 20 officers, adding he wants to make sure the department isn’t spinning its wheels. 

Mangseth also noted the police department has experience collaborating with other entities in making a decision, like for police body cameras, an initiative for which Mangseth said the department reached out to local hospitals, the school district and county advocates. 

“In a lot of ways,” said Mangseth, “these resources, they are way more important than we thought.”

The next step, said Mangseth, is to have another police department open house, which is scheduled for June 14 at city council chambers starts at 6:30 p.m. 

Mangseth said the small size of the force makes it nimble, but he can’t stick six people on a large project because it will take away from typical day-to-day operations, so the exact timing is still up in the air for both the website makeover and putting data on it.

“Maybe I haven’t been preaching the right way, and I acknowledge that,” said Mangseth. “I was never a marketing major, never in advertising. I’m willing to acknowledge we don’t know what we don’t know. So let’s figure it out.”

 

– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815

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