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The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Police’s Joint Community-Police Partnership

By Jeff Ankerfelt, Deputy Chief, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Police Department; Michael Davis, Chief, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Police Department; and Logan Futterer, Contract Manager, Hennepin County, Minnesota

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etween 1990 and 2000, the foreignborn population in Minnesota rose 130 percent.1 In this new millennium, it is expected that the number of foreign-born residents will continue to rise. Many of these new immigrants have settled in Hennepin County, the most populous county in Minnesota, which experienced a 150 percent increase in foreign-born residents.2 During the same time period, the cities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, both in Hennepin County, rapidly evolved from relatively homogenous communities to populations reaching 40 percent to 50 percent in their diversity.3

Within the two cities, often referred to as “the Brooklyns,” a significant portion of the demographic shift comprised immigrants who were new arrivals to the United States. By 2008, the Brooklyns and several surrounding cities became home to what is estimated to be the largest population of Liberian and Somali civil war refugees in the United States.4 In the hopes of finding affordable housing and employment opportunities, other African, Hispanic, Eastern European, and Asian refugees and immigrants have also gravitated to these cities.

In 2004, officers at the Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center police departments recognized a pattern of conflict within the cities that was inhibiting or preventing the successful integration of new Americans. New arrivals were experiencing significant conflict both within their own communities, with new arrivals from other cultures, and with U.S.-born residents. After interviewing affected officers, immigrants, and long-term residents, it became clear that a variety of conflicts were the result of miscommunication or differing assumptions among diverse residents with various languages,
family structures, social customs, and religious beliefs.

In particular, it was noted that many new immigrants lacked an understanding of how the American legal and law enforcement systems work. Further complicating matters was the common perception among immigrants and refugees—created from experiences before arriving in the United States—that police are corrupt, violent, and oppressive.

The police in the Brooklyns worried that without the existence of mutual understanding and improved police legitimacy within immigrant communities, the ability of the police to reduce conflict and achieve stability and safety for all, including for police officers, would be significantly reduced. It became evident that the communities were in urgent need of relationship building among community members; increased connectivity to social services; better methods of communication; and greater mutual understanding among police, local residents, and new immigrants and refugees.

Partnering, Participation, and Collaboration

In January 2005, the two police departments, with the assistance of the Hennepin County Probation Services, the Hennepin County Office of Multicultural Services, and the nonprofit Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council, worked to create the Joint Community Police Partnership (JCPP). The inclusion of the county agencies and a locally based nonprofit agency from the beginning increased the ability and credibility of the police departments’ efforts. Personnel from these other agencies also contributed a significant amount of experience and organizational capacity to rapidly develop and implement the JCPP.

Images courtesy of Brooklyn Park Minnesota,
Police Department
From its inception, it was recognized that the strategies used by the JCPP to accomplish its goals would have to be very different from those used in the past by many police departments. Historically, most police departments have not taken a leadership role beyond public safety to reduce conflict and to assist in the successful integration of immigrants into their communities. More often than not, police officers have been offered a class once a year to hear a vendor lecture about the need for police to demonstrate greater empathy or sensitivity for others. This strategy has been shown to be misguided and ineffective. To ensure the acceptance of officers and to build better relations with multicultural communities, the JCPP developed three strategies that focus on information sharing; problem solving; and, most importantly, relationship building.

  1. Create and implement practical and commonsense strategies to improve the community members’ knowledge and understanding of police procedures, laws, and ordinances.

  2. Improve police officers’ knowledge and connections to the diverse cultures they serve by providing them with practical information and tools to problem solve and handle calls for service efficiently.

  3. Seek out any forum where immigrants congregate or create opportunities for positive interaction and two-way communication between police officers and immigrant community members. Bring the officers and immigrant communities together in informal settings that allow for not only professional but also personal connection.

To date, the JCPP relationship-building and problem-solving approach has developed five tangibles in support of the three main strategies and made demonstrable progress in each component. These five components follow:

1. Embedded community liaisons. A Hennepin County–funded staff member, called a community liaison, is embedded in each city’s police department. Nonsworn community liaisons serve as links between the community and the police department, and they function as one of several very public faces of the JCPP. The liaisons assist in developing and delivering training for police and community members, facilitate community dialogues, host multicultural advisory meetings, and build relationships that assist with interventions during community crises. The liaisons function as civilian connections within the departments whom community members—who otherwise might fear the police—can feel comfortable approaching. Although community liaisons remain county employees for personnel and administrative purposes, they receive all their day-to-day direction from a senior police officer. Their principal workplace and administrative support is at the police department, and they utilize police equipment as warranted. What has been critical to the success of the JCPP is that these liaisons are known to the community as representatives of the local police departments. The community has come to recognize them as valued assets in dealing with a variety of issues related to public safety and city government.

Evaluations from the community liaisons show that positive relationships have been developed with

  • more than 200 police officers within the four police departments in Hennepin County;

  • 12 area high schools comprising more than 200 youths;

  • more than 60 local nonprofit organizations;

  • 10 public and private medical and public health organizations;

  • Two area community colleges;

  • Two local workforce centers and housing and economic development groups; and

  • 30 immigrant organizations within the four cities including charter schools, nonprofits, media, churches, businesses, and immigrant sports organizations.

Six presentations have been given to professional probation law enforcement and social worker gatherings, and more than 6,000 community members representing a variety of nationalities have been involved in training sessions created by liaisons.

2. Training for police officers. The JCPP provides training for police officers in a variety of ways. Police officers attend roll call or day-long training on topics related to the cultural communities they serve. The JCPP has identified cultural and law enforcement experts who conduct these officer trainings and who work with the project to develop new curricula on key topics. Trainings have included information on the Somali, Liberian, Hmong, Latino, and Bosnian cultures; immigrant perceptions of law enforcement; the effects of war and torture; cultural perspectives on domestic violence; and the immigrant and refugee experience in the United States. Officers have attended and continue to attend language classes ranging from beginner to advanced level to full-language immersion experiences. The acquired language skills allow officers to communicate with individuals in their own languages, which can diffuse tense situations, ease an individual’s fears, and allow for a better understanding by all parties involved. A primary goal of all of these police training methods is to provide police officers with the knowledge and practical tools that will assist them in frequent interactions with the community such as traffic stops, domestic violence situations, large parties and gatherings, and code enforcement issues. Practical tools and information include continuous access to interpretive services and connections to the Mexican consulate, which can assist in the rapid identification of individuals. The JCPP has also created informational brochures on these topics and translated them into other languages to assist police with communicating their expectations of community members and to assist community members with understanding U.S. laws and law enforcement procedures.

More than 200 police officers in four cities have participated in various JCPP trainings. These include 80 officers who were trained on the impact of war, torture, and abuse upon various cultures; and 50 officers who received training on Somali gangs and the use of the khat, a controlled substance popular in East Africa. Most surveyed officers say that JCPP training has improved their understanding of the immigrant groups residing in their cities. After having been trained, many officers have attended community events with large numbers of immigrants or have participated in events designed to address the communities’ understanding of police behavior.

3. Multicultural advisory committee (MAC). A multicultural advisory committee (MAC) was formed in each city. Each one serves as a connection between the police department and the community residents. These committees have a diverse membership and include long-term residents, recent immigrants, individuals who work or serve in the partner cities, religious leaders, school representatives, and community leaders. Each committee meets at least monthly in an effort to act as a communication bridge between community members and the police department. MAC members have assisted JCPP staff with designing and implementing community member and police training, hosted or facilitated community focus groups, and hosted question-and-answer sessions for community members with the police. MAC members are able to share unique perspectives or issues of concern within their communities with police officers. The committees also give the respective police departments a means to reach out and get information to he various diverse residents in their cities. The MAC members are a visible sign to the community that safe and healthy relationships with law enforcement are not only possible but desired by both police and the community.

There are now three distinct committees with approximately 15 members each, representing 12 different nationalities and four racial groups across the four cities. Members received training on conflict resolution, mediation, and communication techniques. These three groups have established positive relationships with the police officers in each city and have connected with more than 2,500 community members. MAC members attended more than 40 community training and cultural events, facilitated more than 40 opportunities for police departments to meet with community groups and gather feedback, and participated in more than 15 specialized trainings on police techniques and equipment, including ride-alongs on actual calls.

4. Multicultural police cadets. The JCPP’s design includes the hiring of multicultural police cadets by each police department. The fact that the police departments have multicultural police cadets speaks volumes to community members whose race, background, and ethnic status may previously have been a cause for misunderstanding between them and the police. Police cadets serve their communities as nonsworn community service officers and work directly under senior officers as part of the police department while working toward completing their formal education and police skills training. Through a contract between Hennepin County and each city, the cadet’s schooling and on-the-job training is funded by the county with the understanding that when cadets have fulfilled their education and cadet job duties appropriately, they will receive job offers as sworn/licensed officers. Police officers provide all on-site supervision and training for cadets.

To date, six diverse individuals representing a multitude of nationalities have been selected to enroll as police cadets through the JCPP program. They have been involved in more than 100 community events assisting multicultural liaisons and providing a link to the multicultural communities. Two Liberian and Hmong cadets have completed officer training; have become state-licensed; have earned their associate of arts certificates (which is the required minimum education to become a licensed peace officer in Minnesota); and have been sworn in as officers of participating police departments. A third cadet is expected to complete training this spring.

5. Training for community members. Community liaisons and police jointly develop and deliver training to community members on such topics as the role of the police, federal laws, and personal safety. Trainings are offered in such formats as question-and-answer sessions at English as a Second Language classes; church gatherings; and classes in local schools. A half-hour training video was produced and aired by public television to show multicultural residents the methods and rationale employed by police officers when making a traffic stop. This video was jointly made and produced with input from police officers and community members.

Another outreach method was developed when Hennepin County’s Workforce Investment Board provided funding for a local community college to develop a series of topical videos on bullying, police work as a career for multicultural youth, and gangs. These videos are used by college staff and the JCPP community liaisons in local high schools to engage multicultural youth on these key issues. Another grant from Hennepin County enabled a nonprofit to connect with high schools whose jurisdictions are
within the JCPP to provide a variety of events that encourage youth to learn about healthy and safe behaviors by connecting with police officers and the community liaisons.

The New Americans’ Academy, an education and outreach program developed by the community liaisons, is an especially innovative component of community training. It is designed to familiarize immigrants with federal and local laws and police procedures and educate them on various public safety issues. Depending upon the topic, the presenters may include police officers, criminal justice officials, drug and domestic abuse experts, or the JCPP community liaisons. The format is flexible and can be offered from six segments to a full-day immersion. The New Americans’ Academy has been so popular that it has also been adapted into a Teen Police Academy with content modified to address law and public safety issues important to immigrant youth.

More than 6,000 community members in four cities have attended a JCPP event or training, and more than 80 percent of those individuals, as selfreported through pre- and post-event questionnaires, experienced a better understanding of police and less fear of police as a result of their involvement in the event. Community members and police officers also have had several crisis dialogues to resolve tension that arose because of cultural conflicts. Through these interactions, community members have advised police about ways to adapt police procedures when responding to calls regarding parties and gatherings. While the primary beneficiaries of the JCPP have been the local police and the immigrant and refugee groups in these cities, the long-term residents also benefit from a better understanding and appreciation for the increasing diversity in their communities. Attendance at all-city events has recently become increasingly diverse as multicultural community members are becoming more engaged in the community through JCPP efforts.

The Advancement of Civil Rights

Many refugee and immigrant communities whose individuals have come from war-torn countries run by corrupt governments may not realize that they have civil rights when they come to the United States. In some of these countries, the police have been used by the government as tools of violence and oppression. The JCPP has contributed to the advancement of civil rights by helping to remove the psychological and emotional barriers for these residents and by encouraging them to exercise their civil rights. Because of involvement in JCPP initiatives, many multicultural residents now believe that they have an actual partner in combating crime and making neighborhoods safe and livable. Through the JCPP, the police departments encourage residents to voice concerns about their rights and responsibilities as residents in the United States and, importantly, to ask questions. Moreover, the JCPP has allowed and encouraged residents to expect more from their police departments and officers by fostering the idea that community members and police officers can work together as a team to uphold the civil rights of those who are marginalized—namely, women, children, the elderly, and especially those who do not speak English as a first language.

Benefits to the Law Enforcement Profession

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the philosophy of community policing “promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”5

In following the core tenets of community policing, the JCPP has been successful in connecting the police to new Americans by utilizing the following strategies:

  • Allowing officers to get a better feel for community needs and misperceptions by attending community events and meeting community members face-to-face in positive, nonpunitive settings

  • Framing the issue as two-sided—community members and police need to adjust how they operate in order to be successful, which makes both sides more willing to cooperate with the other to arrive at a positive outcome

  • Providing officers with additional cultural knowledge and tools (for example, interpretation services, translated brochures, and Spanish classes) that enable officers to more effectively serve diverse residents

  • Providing information to the community and specifically the immigrant community about resident rights and the role of the police helps to build trust—when community members trust the police, they are more likely to report crime and cooperate with investigations

  • Diversifying the workforce with multicultural cadets to increase the cultural knowledge of the whole department and also encourage diverse candidates to apply for positions (community members are more likely to trust someone they view as being like them, having a similar background, or speaking their language)

  • Connecting community members with services that address their broader needs (for example, shelter, clothing, food, victim services) can be facilitated or in some cases fulfilled by the community liaisons (previously a police responsibility)

  • Interpreting and cultural-brokering bfor officers dealing with victims and perpetrators by MAC members and by liaisons allowing situations to be resolved in a more comfortable and faster manner

While each city differs in size and demographic makeup, the original Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center Joint Community Police Partnership has successfully replicated itself in the two newest member cities of Richfield and Hopkins, which joined the JCPP in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The project is easily adapted to new member cities as many of the concerns of law enforcement and communities they serve are similar. Where concerns and needs differ, the management team provides direction for the project on the city-specific issues. The connections formed by the embedded community liaison with community leaders, school and city officials, and city residents provide direction for the project in new member cities. Also, each new MAC formed provides the JCPP with insight into the diverse communities residing in the member cities and works toward addressing the needs of the police and the community. The community liaisons have been invited and have presented the JCPP concept at state and national law enforcement and criminal justice conventions with the hope that other local law enforcement agencies realize the benefit of building relationships with their new multicultural residents and can replicate the program.

After learning about the JCPP at IACP 2008, the Netherlands sent a delegation of national police to observe the JCPP and to determine how the project could benefit its police and its growing immigrant communities. After one of Liberia’s former leading police officers began participating on a JCPP MAC, the Liberian government decided to place one of its members as an intern with the Brooklyn Park Police Department. The intern, a fellow at the Humphrey Institute, was Marc Amblard, who is the current leader of the Liberian National Police Force.

The Joint Community Police Partnership is a significant achievement for the Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Richfield, and Hopkins police departments and Hennepin County, as it represents a proactive approach to creating safe and livable communities by forming positive relationships and fostering communication between local law enforcement agencies and the increasing number of multicultural residents of these cities. By encouraging and facilitating dialogue, community members and police can begin to understand each other’s needs and functions, leading to fewer tense confrontations and a more mutually beneficial relationship. By exploring creative ways of engaging the police and community members in positive communication, the JCPP hopes to be an example to other municipalities of a method of proactive interaction with changing demographics. ■

1Mike Edgerly, “Census: Minnesotans Have More Money, More Education, More Time on the Road,” Minnesota Public Radio, June 3, 2002, (accessed January 10, 2011).
3David Peterson and Jim Adams, “Brooklyn Center Now Roughly Half White, Half Minority,” Star Tribune, December 8, 2008, (accessed January 24, 2011).
4The Minneapolis Foundation, Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground (Minneapolis, Minn.: The Minneapolis Foundation, October 2004), 10 and 14, (accessed January 10, 2011).
5“Community Policing Defined,” Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice, (accessed January 10, 2011).

Please cite as:

Jeff Ankerfelt, Michael Davis, and Logan Futterer, "The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Police’s Joint Community-Police Partnership" The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 22–31.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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