The project came out of a conversation between Bill Doherty, of the University of Minnesota’s Citizen Professional Center, and Guy Bowling, director of the FATHER Project in Minneapolis. Bill (a White man) and Guy (a Black man) had worked together on community projects for many years. Their conversation occurred in the summer of 2016 when the community was reeling from the death of Philando Castile after a traffic stop by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Guy said that he was reaching “outrage fatigue” and posed the question about whether Bill’s Families and Democracy model could be applied to the problems between Minneapolis police and Black men. This approach focuses on grass roots relationship building prior to action steps, rather than traditional top-down programming.
The basic idea that emerged was that a small group of police officers and Black men from the Minneapolis community would meet frequently over at least a year to develop relationships of trust and then decide on joint action steps.
Bill and Guy knew they could personally recruit the Black men from the community, but neither had ties to the Minneapolis Police Department. So Bill consulted with a well-connected friend who suggested starting by running the idea past Bob Kroll, head of the police union. Bill sent Lieutenant Kroll an email in January 2016 and immediately received a positive response and an invitation to meet Officer Dave O’Connor, a union leader and public engagement officer. That month Bill met over coffee with Dave and his partner, who were enthusiastic. Dave then discussed the idea with his colleagues and superiors, and got green lights. Finally, Bill contacted Police Chief Janee Harteau who met with him along with her Community Liaison Sherman Patterson. The Chief approved the idea with great interest, and entrusted Sherman Patterson with setting up a process of selecting the officers.
The initial group recruited consisted of five male officers (five White, one Black) and six Black men from the community. (One White officer subsequently dropped out and was replaced by another Black officer.) Officers were nominated by a group consisting of Deputy Chief Arradondo, Community Liaison Sherman Patterson, Officer Dave O’Connor and Bill Doherty (Bill had final screening authority). Once a group was nominated, we met with the Precinct Inspectors to get their buy in and willingness to approach the nominated officers. The Inspectors were uniformly positive about the project and then recruited their officers. The community members were nominated by Guy Bowling and Bill Doherty (one was nominated by Sherman Patterson), and were interviewed by Bill, Guy, and Sherman. We decided to alternate meetings between a police training facility and a community-located facility (UROC–the Urban Outreach and and Outreach/ Engagement Center of the University of Minnesota).
The group began biweekly meetings in January, 2017, with this goal: to forge connections between police officers and African American men that can lead to better partnerships for community safety and law enforcement. With Bill facilitating, we used a process of building relationships through personal storytelling, then opening up challenging topics, and deciding to create a common narrative to describe who we are, how we see the problem, what we envision for a safe community, and how we act together to bring about change. The group began its public action efforts in the fall of 2018. Our involvement in police training began in November 2019, with a training workshop for Cadets.
After the onset of the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, the group’s public activities went on hold. We had some of our most difficult and pained conversations (via Zoom) in the ensuing months, and we held together as a group. One of our police officers resigned and moved to a new police district, and another took a leave and later left the Minneapolis Police Department. In summer of 2021, we decided to return to in-person meetings and recommit ourselves to the work ahead.