Park Board moves toward recommendation phase in policing plan

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is preparing to make new recommendations about the roles of park police after four months of community engagement spurred by a July incident at Minnehaha Regional Park in which four black teenagers had a gun pointed at them and were handcuffed by officers following a 911 call.

Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Ringold, who led the MPRB response to the incident, said learning sessions have been held each Friday with the Park Police Work Group since August. About 40 MPRB staff members with extensive racial equity training also participated in the effort, which sough feedback online and in-person at events throughout the fall. Participants in community listening session included 114 community members and 95 staff members, according to Ringold.

Overall, the MPRB received 1,334 comments during the process, Ringold said. Those comments were fit into 52 themes, which were further parsed into 11 topics. The topics were divided by the work group into three core work areas: defining the park police and their strategies; examining park police tactics, presence in the parks, and resources; and improving staff relations and community engagement.

The plan for making recommendations is to create three to four teams comprised of about seven people who will go through the findings and make policy suggestions to the board. The teams would each include a park commissioner, park police officer, a park police advisory committee member, an MPRB staffer, a topic “thought leader” and a youth representative, Ringold said.

“We want this recommendation phase to be a relationship building phase,” Ringold said.

The recommendation phase is expected to last from January to April and will, in theory, be followed by implementation.

On July 10, park police officers were dispatched to Minnehaha Park on reports of four teens holding knives and sticks and that one of them had a gun in his backpack. The 911 information was updated to say that the suspects were in a dispute with the caller’s boyfriend. When police arrive, at least one officer had his weapon drawn and pointed it toward the teens, according to a Park Board statement. The teens, ages 14-16, were handcuffed and found to have no weapons. A video taken by a bystander was widely viewed online.

Park police submitted a criminal report regarding the 911 call to the city attorney’s office seeking criminal charges for a false 911 call. The city attorney’s office declined to charge citing insufficient evidence to identify the caller.

The incident led to the Park Board hiring third party firms to investigate the actions of park officers, and several outreach meetings with the families of the teens who were handcuffed. The results of those investigations are not yet public, Ringold said.

In September Commissioners passed a resolution to make stronger penalties for fake 911 calls, which is currently a misdemeanor charge, a priority in their lobbying efforts with the state legislature.